What is project management?

What is project management?

By Published On: 2. October 2023


Hey, have you ever wondered what project management actually is? Well, you're not alone. Many people think it's simply about organizing and recording things, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. Project management is a complex discipline that requires a lot of care, attention, and most importantly, planning. It's about leading a team, managing resources, and making sure a project is completed on time and within budget. It may sound simple, but when you consider that each project is unique and brings its own challenges and considerations, it quickly becomes clear that it's a deep skill set. Interested? Then stay tuned, because in this article we'll go into detail and explain what project management really means.

The definition of project management

Project management is the specific application knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to meet project requirements. It is a specialized form of management that uses traditional management principles to achieve specific objectives. Let's understand more about the different components of this definition and its scope.

The application of project management knowledge and skills

Proper application of knowledge and skills is critical to the successful implementation of project management theories. It is not enough to just know the concepts; a good project manager must be able to apply them. Not only technical skills are needed, but also interpersonal and organizational skills.

For example, a project manager needs excellent communication skills to interact effectively with the team and stakeholders. He or she must also be a good organizer and planner to ensure that all tasks are completed on time. In addition, strategic thinking and problem-solving skills are also critical.

Tools and techniques in project management

The use of specific tools and techniques is another crucial aspect of project management. These are used to increase the efficiency of the project and optimize the workflow.

For example, time management tools such as Gantt charts and Pert charts are widely used to visualize the project plan and monitor progress. Risk management tools such as SWOT analyses help identify potential problems early and create plans to address them. In addition, communication tools help with effective communication and collaboration across the team.

Taking all these aspects into account, we can say that project management is a discipline focused on complexity and dynamics. Although it is consistent with management principles, project managers work in an uncertain environment and must frequently adapt to changes and challenges. Therefore, effective mastery of project management requires a combination of skills, knowledge, experience, and the right tools and techniques.

Your main goals in project management

Each project presents a unique challenge, but the overall goals of your project management remain fundamentally the same. Below, we'll take a closer look at these key objectives and emphasize the importance of each to successful project execution.

Successful project implementation

The primary goal of any project is, of course, successful implementation. However, the success of a project depends not only on completion, but also on the achievement of defined goals. This could mean developing a product that meets your customer's requirements, delivering a service that meets business expectations, or completing an event that has the intended effect.

To achieve these goals, it is important that you meet the requirements and expectations of all stakeholders. You can achieve this through continuous communication and feedback, transparency regarding project status and progress, and efficient management of costs and resources. The decisions you make during the course of the project should always be aligned with the overall goal. This means that it is important to have a clear project plan and to constantly develop and adapt it when necessary.

Keep project on budget and on schedule

Another main objective in project management is to realize a project within the set budget and schedule. Although it is inevitable in many projects that adjustments and changes have to be made, it remains central to keep the project within these regularities as much as possible.

For you as a project manager, this means ensuring that all resources are used efficiently and that all work is carried out synchronously and according to plan. While time and costs have to fit together harmoniously, you have to constantly keep an eye on quality and make sure that the project does not have to compromise on quality. Balancing time, cost and quality is a constant challenge in project management and one of your most important tasks as a project manager.

To achieve these goals, you need to apply certain tools and procedures. For example, using project management software that specializes in resource planning and task management could be a valuable asset. Here, your skills as a project manager are required to keep an eye on the framework conditions such as schedule and budget, while at the same time analyzing progress and making corrections and adjustments as needed. In this way, the main goals are achieved in the end and the project success is ensured.

The functions of project management

Project management is much more than just coordinating and managing projects. It encompasses a variety of functions, including defining project goals and the effort required to achieve them, overseeing and controlling execution, and leading the project team. Take a closer look at these functions.

Setting project goals and budgeting

One of the fundamental functions of project management is to accurately define the scope of the project and set the objectives to be achieved. This includes identifying and aligning stakeholder expectations, setting specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals, and establishing the parameters for the success of the project. The project management function also includes establishing a realistic budget that takes into account available resources, timeframe, and expected outcomes.

Beyond just setting goals, budgeting is also about considering the cost of every aspect of the project including labor, materials and services, contingencies for unforeseen circumstances or risks, and a projected profit margin. Budget control mechanisms must be implemented to ensure that expenditures remain in line with the established budget.

Supervision, control and management

Another important aspect of project management is overseeing and monitoring project execution to ensure that the project is proceeding as planned. This includes reviewing progress against established goals, assessing team performance, identifying and resolving problems and obstacles, and adjusting scope, objectives, or budget as necessary.

Leading the project team is also a key function of project management. Project managers must ensure that the team works effectively and efficiently to follow the established plan and achieve the agreed goals. They should also keep an eye on the team's well-being and satisfaction to keep motivation and performance at a high level.

In summary, project management is a diverse and complex discipline that encompasses a variety of functions, from goal setting and budgeting to oversight, control, and leadership of a project. An effective project manager masters all of these functions to ensure the successful implementation and delivery of projects. The dominance of these project management functions can make the difference between the success and failure of a project.

The different phases in project management

Every project, big or small, goes through different phases, from idea to implementation. Do you understand what these phases are and how they fit into the bigger picture of project management? You already know that project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities and is focused on the satisfactory implementation of the project. But how do you get from the starting line to the goal post? How do you ensure that each goal is achieved? The answer lies in the various phases of project management.

Initiation phase

Do you remember the moment when you have an idea and put it on paper for the first time? This is the initiation phase. Thoroughly analyzing the project at the beginning and defining the project concept is the key to successfully launching a project. In this phase, the project goals, the project team, the project resources and the rough time frame are defined. The point is to define the "why" of the project. Why is this project important? What are its goals? Who are the stakeholders? It is important to ensure that the overall project environment, dynamics, and challenges facing the project are thoroughly understood. This is basically the blueprint for everything that will follow.

Planning and execution phase

Once the initiation phase is complete and the project vision is established, the project moves into the planning and execution phase. In the planning phase, the details are determined. How will the project be achieved? What resources are required? How will risk be managed? This is the point where a close eye is kept on everything from time management to cost management to quality management and, of course, risk management.

The execution phase is the point at which plans are turned into reality. Tasks are divided by priority and teams are assigned. There are regular status updates and checkpoints to make sure everything is going according to plan. People start working and completing project tasks. Team members complete their assigned tasks and the project manager reviews progress and ensures the project stays on track.

The different phases of project management are not just stages in a process, but rather the individual parts of a larger whole. They are like the different building blocks that together make up a successful project, and understanding these phases is key to understanding the entire project management process. And remember, although these phases are in a specific order, flexibility is key. Every project is unique and always requires a unique approach.

The advantages of good project management

Project management done well can improve your business in many different ways. Not only can you successfully complete projects thanks to good project management, but you can reap additional benefits that are often overlooked. Typically, it helps minimize risk, promote teamwork, and meet everyone's expectations. Here are some specific benefits you can gain from good project management.

Efficient allocation of resources and minimization of risks

One of the great benefits of good project management practices is the efficient allocation of resources. Through careful planning and monitoring, the project management team can ensure that each resource is used efficiently and that overlaps are avoided. Good project management goes a step further and even looks to find ways to make the best use of resources. This could mean rotating staff between projects or organizing physical resources so that they can be used on multiple projects simultaneously.

In addition, risk management is one of the main responsibilities of a project manager, and good project management provides processes and tools to effectively identify and minimize risks. This can be achieved, for example, through risk analyses, preparatory measures and active monitoring and control processes.

Promoting teamwork and increasing customer confidence

Good project management promotes teamwork by establishing structures that enable communication and collaboration. These structures give each team member clarity about their roles and responsibilities, foster a sense of ownership, and enable the team to work together more effectively. It also creates a positive work environment that encourages innovation, idea sharing and mutual support.

Customer trust is another important benefit of good project management practices. By planning and executing projects transparently, project managers show customers that they can rely on the company. They prove that they take their tasks seriously and are able to complete projects on time and within budget. They also help manage unrealistic expectations by creating a clear and realistic project roadmap and openly sharing it with clients. This not only improves customer relationships, but also increases the likelihood that customers will do business with the company again in the future.

Ultimately, well-practiced project management is an investment in the success of your business. It delivers more than just successful project execution - it enables efficient resource planning, risk mitigation, team collaboration and building customer trust. Remember this when you're thinking about optimizing your project management practices. It's an investment that pays off in many ways.

Project Management Methods: An Overview

In the colorful world of project management, many different methods and approaches exist that can lead projects to success. They are as diverse and unique as the projects themselves. They all have their individual strengths and weaknesses and are suitable for different types of projects. The choice of method depends on various influencing factors, including the specific requirements of the project, your preferences as a project manager and those of your team, as well as the environment and culture of the organization. Below is an overview of some of the most popular and widely used project management methods.

Traditional project management

Traditional project management methods are based on a clear and complete definition of the project scope and objectives at the beginning of the project. The steps are usually sequential and include initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing the project. Traditional methods such as the Waterfall Method or the Critical Path Method (CPM) are well suited for projects with a clear scope and little expected change or uncertainty. They are easy to understand and control, but can be rigid and inefficient when faced with complex or rapidly changing projects.

Agile project management

Agile methods have become increasingly popular in recent years, especially in software development and in dynamic and flexible organizations. Agile methods like Scrum or Kanban are very flexible and adaptive. They focus on team collaboration and self-organization. Through short cycles or "sprints" they enable continuous adaptation and improvement of the project. Agile methods are excellent for projects with many unknowns and high uncertainty. They require a high level of participation and commitment from the team and stakeholders.

Choose the right method

Deciding on the right project management method can be quite difficult and there is no one solution that fits all projects. The choice depends heavily on the specific context and needs of the project. You need to consider many factors, such as the size and complexity of the project, the availability of resources, the time constraints, the expectations of the stakeholders, and so on.

It's also important to remember that you don't necessarily have to use just one method for the entire project. It can be advantageous and often even useful to combine different methods or to switch depending on the phase or aspect of the project. This is often referred to as hybrid project management.

As a project manager, you need to be flexible, creative and open to new approaches. You should be able to select the best tools and methods for your project and apply them effectively. Keep in mind that the goal is not to find the "perfect" method, but the method that best contributes to achieving the project goals. Your methods should serve your project, not the other way around. In this way, you can ensure that you can successfully deliver your projects and meet the expectations of your customers and stakeholders.

Technical tools for your project management

In today's technology-driven world, effective project management is unthinkable without technology. The field of project management requires constant innovation and adaptation to new tools and technologies. There are many technical tools that can facilitate your project management. They can help you organize, plan and manage projects. It is important to keep up to date and integrate new technologies into your work environment. Because the more modern the technical tools are, the better you can do your work and the higher the probability that your project will be successful.

Productivity enhancement applications

One of the most important tech tools in project management are productivity apps. These apps can help increase your team's productivity and enable smoother collaboration. Popular productivity apps include Asana, Trello, and Slack. They allow your team to organize all tasks in one place, keep track of deadlines, and communicate with each other. Another useful app is Google Drive, a cloud-based service that allows your team to share, collaborate and access files anytime, anywhere.

Project management software

But project management software is also essential in project management. Project management software such as Microsoft Project or JIRA helps you manage all aspects of a project, from planning to execution, progress, control and completion. With such programs you can allocate resources, track progress and generate reports. Besides, they can help you control risks and costs, and allow you to keep the project within the established budget and schedule.

But it's not just productivity apps and project management software that are important in project management. There are many other technical tools that can help you make your work more efficient and successful. These include tools for data analysis, time tracking, documentation and communication. It is important to keep up to date with new developments and trends in order to get the most out of the available technical resources.

Although technical tools are of great importance in project management, they should not be seen as a panacea. They are tools that can help organize and manage a project, but they cannot replace a good project manager. A good project manager must not only be technically proficient and know how to use the various tools, but also possess leadership qualities, teamwork skills, and a number of other skills.

In summary, technical tools are an indispensable part of project management. They can simplify project management, increase efficiency and contribute to successful project execution. However, it is important to remember that they are only a means to an end and can never replace people at the heart of project management.

The role of the project manager

Every successful project requires a strong leader. This role often falls to the project manager, who not only has the technical skills to manage projects, but also the people skills to lead a team on the path to success. However, your role goes beyond just managing the team. You must always stay on top of things as a project manager, both the small details and the big picture. Let's take a closer look at the responsibilities and tasks of a project manager.

Responsibilities of a project manager

As a project manager, you control and monitor, plan and manage resources, are in constant communication with stakeholders - clearly, this role requires a sense of responsibility and a good dose of organizational skills.

You will need to ensure that the project stays on track and achieves the set goals within the designated budget and timeframe. This includes monitoring project phases, communicating with stakeholders, and problem solving when challenges arise.

As a project manager, you are also responsible for coordinating and motivating the project team. You ensure that the work remains varied and exciting and that everyone involved is pulling in the same direction. In the event of ambiguities, you are the central contact person and should be able to give clear instructions as well as respond to the ideas and suggestions of the team.

The soft skills of a good project manager

In addition to technical knowledge, certain "soft" skills are essential to be successful in the role of project manager. These include leadership qualities, strong communication skills and empathy.

As a good project manager, you know how to lead and motivate a team. You give clear instructions, but at the same time make sure that each team member has enough room for creative ideas. Leadership in this context means not only giving orders, but also being there for the team in a supportive and inspiring way.

Communication is another crucial aspect of effective project management. You need to be able to explain complex issues in a simple and understandable way and give constructive feedback. You also need to be able to deal with different personality types and always have an open ear for your team's concerns.

Finally, empathy is a key attribute of a successful project manager. This means the ability to put yourself in the shoes of others and understand their needs and perspectives. Only in this way can you, as a project manager, create an environment in which everyone involved feels valued and understood.

In summary, the role of the project manager is complex and demanding. It requires both technical know-how and human skills. It is a role that requires flexibility, perseverance and a willingness to continuously improve. A good project manager is therefore a true multi-talent and a driving force in project management.

How to run a successful project management

Now that you know the basics of project management and the different methods and tools, it's time to dig a little deeper and analyze how you run a successful project management. Remember that excellent project management is not just about completing projects, it's about completing them successfully, which means meeting everyone's expectations.

Set and track project milestones

Clearly defined milestones are the backbone of any successful project. They serve as anchor points to measure the progress of the project and ensure it is on track. They allow you to set smaller, achievable goals while keeping the goal of the entire project in mind.

However, it is not enough to just set milestones, you must also track them. This requires continuous monitoring and analysis of project activities to ensure they stay on schedule. It also requires regular reviews and adjustments to deal with unforeseen obstacles and changes. Don't forget that in the process, it's equally important to celebrate successes when milestones are reached to boost team motivation and morale.

Build strong teams and foster collaboration

Another essential element for successful project management is a well-functioning team. A good team is more than just a group of individuals with different skills, it is a unit that works together effectively to achieve common goals. As a project manager, your team building and collaboration skills are critical.

Through team-building activities and regular team meetings, you bring your team together and ensure that everyone understands each other's roles and responsibilities. Through clear communication and a collaborative way of working, you ensure that all members feel involved and valued, and that conflicts are resolved effectively. It's also important to use each team member according to their skills and strengths, and give everyone enough freedom to shine and contribute to the success of the project.

Realize that successful teams don't happen overnight, but are the result of continuous effort and nurturing. You need to find the right balance between leadership and teamwork to achieve the best results.

For you, being a project manager is about using a variety of skills and tactics to ensure that each project is completed successfully and efficiently. This means defining clear milestones, monitoring progress, creating a positive and collaborative team environment, and most importantly, always being flexible and willing to adapt and learn. With the right tools and approaches, successful project management is not only possible, but almost guaranteed.

Risks and challenges in project management

As a project manager, it's in your nature to overcome challenges and control risks. But we won't kid ourselves: It can be tricky at times. There are many potential problems, from technical difficulties and communication issues to unforeseen changes and conflicts within the team. All of these are part of day-to-day operations. Now we'll take a closer look at these challenges and discuss how you can effectively manage them.

Confrontation with unexpected problems and deviations from the plan

One thing is certain: life is not predictable and neither are projects. No matter how well you plan and how committed your team is, unexpected problems can always arise. It may be that an important employee suddenly falls ill or that the resources budgeted for the project are not sufficient.

It is important to have a certain flexibility and to be able to react quickly to changes. It is helpful to have a solid plan B up your sleeve and to always keep an eye on the future. Always remember: The plan is good, the plan B is better!

Conflict management and team dynamics

Imagine that you are the captain of a ship. Except that your ship is made up of several people, each with their own ideas and personalities. Sounds like fun, right? In fact, most teams experience conflicts and tensions that can affect the project.

To manage this, it is important to promote open communication and transparency within the team. For example, be angels patient and try to mediate when conflicts arise. The point is to create an atmosphere where everyone can express their opinion and feel respected. Make sure all members of the team have the same goal in mind and are working to achieve it. Conflict itself is not bad; it's how you handle it that matters.

And that's it - two of the most common challenges in project management and strategies to overcome them. Always remember: every challenge is also a learning opportunity. In that sense, there aren't really problems in project management, only learning opportunities. The next time you're faced with a huge problem, just remember that. Sounds good, doesn't it? With this in mind, good luck with your next project!

Your path to a career in project management

In the previous sections, we have already dealt in detail with the general and basic principles of project management. Now we want to go a step further and look at how you yourself can start on the path to a career in project management. It is not only an interesting and dynamic field, but also an extremely lucrative one.

Required qualifications for project management

First of all, there is not one, but many paths into project management. What they have in common, however, is that they require a combination of theory and practice. Theoretical knowledge includes a basic understanding of project management principles, methods and tools. You can gain this by studying business administration, computer science, engineering or a similar field. Specialized degrees in project management are also possible.

But knowledge alone is not enough. As in any profession, professional experience is also essential in project management. You can gain this experience in a wide variety of areas and industries, because project management is universally applicable. What is important is that you are able to deal with people, solve problems creatively and have already gained initial experience in managing or coordinating projects.

Further training and certifications in project management

To succeed in the highly competitive field of project management, you need a unique selling proposition (USP). One way to stand out from the crowd is through further training and certification in project management. These certify a high level of knowledge and skills and are a clear advantage when applying for a job.

There are various providers for such training and certification. Among the best known are the "Project Management Institute" (PMI) and the "IPMA". In German-speaking countries, the "GPM Deutsche Gesellschaft für Projektmanagement" is particularly recommended. Classic certifications are, for example, the "Project Management Professional" (PMP) from PMI or the IPMA Levels A to D.

In addition to the standard certifications, there are also specialized training courses, for example in agile project management. Regardless of which certification or continuing education program you choose, it is important that you continue your education and always stay up to date. This is the only way you can successfully manage projects and establish yourself in this dynamic professional field.

Project management is a multifaceted professional field that requires constant training, flexibility and assertiveness. If you are prepared to accept these challenges and to keep learning new things, then your path to a career in project management will be successful. In any case, I hope that I have been able to make it easier for you to start or continue your career in project management with these explanations. Good luck with it!

Examples of successful project management

Now that we've talked about what project management is and how it works, let's look at examples of successful project management. These examples show how project management is applied in practice and what results you can achieve when everything is done right.

Project management in construction: The construction of the Burj Khalifa

Let's first look at one of the most impressive construction projects in the world: The construction of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. It is the tallest tower in the world and an outstanding example of successful project management in construction. This project showed how important careful planning and coordination is in such large-scale projects. Believe me, this was not an easy task, but a real hard work! Countless construction teams from different disciplines had to work together efficiently and harmoniously, thousands of workers had to be coordinated - and all this while you are constructing a building of incredible size in an unforgiving desert climate. The success of the Burj Khalifa is proof of how effective project management can make even the wildest dreams come true.

Project Management in Technology: The Development of the iPhone

Speaking of successful projects in the technology industry, we can't help but mention Apple Inc. and the development of the iPhone. Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple and known for his perfectionism, personally led the project. He set high standards and demanded absolute secrecy - from start to finish. The development of the first iPhone took about two and a half years and required unprecedented collaboration between designers, engineers and manufacturing experts. The relentless focus on innovation, quality and user experience led to the iPhone becoming not only a successful product, but also a gamechanger in the entire technology industry. This shows how strategic project management, combined with a clear vision, can deliver breakthrough results.

These examples clearly show that good project management is much more than just managing tasks and resources. It's not just about simply getting a project "done"; it's about getting it done in the best possible way - smartly, efficiently and with the best possible results. In short, it's about making the impossible possible. So my advice to you is to be inspired by such success stories and always strive to manage your projects in the best possible way. Is that easy? No, it certainly isn't. But it is the key to success and to achieving your goals.

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About the Author: Sven Emmrich

Sven Emmrich avatar
Sven is a business graduate, DEKRA-certified coach and passionate entrepreneur. As CEO of Karrierehelden, he has been writing for many years on all career topics such as job applications and job changes, money and salary negotiations, leadership skills and management issues, psychology and personality development, communication and conflict management, self-confidence and entrepreneurship, and the line between work and private life with work-life balance... or much more work-life integration. Sven has coached over 1,000 academics, professionals and executives with his team and is happy to help you too.
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