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Key Concepts in Project Management

written by: AlexisW • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 5/20/2011

This guide provides an overview of the key concepts in project management, including the project management process, project life cycles, and project management systems.

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    What is Project Management

    Project management means exactly what the two terms suggest. It is effectively working to coordinate and manage individuals to work towards a common goal or objective to complete a task. Project management requires that one apply their personal knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques towards an activity in order to meet the requirements of a project assigned. Project management involves planning, scheduling, and controlling of all of the combined activities in order to ensure successful completion of project objectives. There are three concepts that are part of any project no matter what type of project is being worked on. These three concepts include project processes, project life cycles, and project management systems.

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    Project Processes

    Project processes are essentially the organizing tool of project management. Understanding the project process means understanding who is responsible for performing a certain process and during what phase of the project process activity should be performed.

    There are five project process phases:

    • The first is the initiative process. In this phase, the project is approved and brainstorming occurs to find the best available way to complete the project.
    • The second project process phase is the planning process. In this phase, objectives and goals of the overall project completion are defined and refined in order to ensure the goals are achievable and realistic.
    • The third project process phase is executing the process. This is the part of the project management phase where activity to complete the project is actually carried out.
    • The fourth project process is actually carried out through the duration of the entire management process. This is the controlling process and in this part of the process, the project manager ensures that the project is on track to completion by a certain deadline.
    • The final project process phase is the wrap up process. In this phase of the project process, the project comes to an end. The project manager is responsible here for wrapping up the entire process.
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    Project Life Cycle

    No matter what the specifics of the project, every project has a project life cycle. The project manager must successfully understand and navigate through each phase of the project life cycle to ensure successful project completion. There are four phases in every project life cycle. The first phase is the concept phase. This is the phase where hard evidence such as graphs, charts, statistics, and other hard data is analyzed to help with successfully completing the process. The next phase in the project life cycle is the planning phase. In this part of the project life cycle, the project team along with the project manager decides how to best complete the project and develops a plan for that completion. The following phase is the execution phase. This is the part of project management where the plan for completion is actually carried out. The final phase of the project life cycle is the closeout. In the closeout part of the phase the project comes to an end and the project team parts ways to complete other projects waiting in the wings.

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    Project Management Systems

    The last key concept or component of project management is understanding project management systems. Project management systems entail knowing all of the components of project management. These components include the human component, the cultural component, the organizational component, the methodological component, the information component, the planning component, and the control/management component.

    In order for the project to be managed successfully, the project manager and the project team alike must understand the human component. This means that they must know how to deal with people and understand “people issues.” They must be skilled in the art of negotiation, interpersonal communication, motivating, team-building, and politics to a degree. In order to successfully manage a project, a project manager must be skilled in the concept of understanding cultural components that may exist on his or her project team. This includes knowledge and acceptance of different cultural beliefs, values, attitudes, behaviors, and traditions that may be present within the project environment.

    Understanding the organization component means knowing how to manage, organize, and hold others accountable for project completion. Knowledge of the methodological component is successful also for project completion. This entails having knowledge about the tools available to the project team that can help keep track of budgets, schedules and things of this nature during the project life cycle.

    The information component is essential to capturing the knowledge of the project. This entails recording the process of project completion so everyone is on the same page. The recording of the information can also help to complete projects in the future of a similar nature. Knowledge of how to plan the project is also extremely important to project completion. Without a plan, the project is like a sailboat lost in a typhoon; it has no particular direction and no way to get to a certain point even if the direction were provided. Therefore, knowing how to plan is a key concept to any type of project management task.

    Lastly, the control or management component is absolutely essential. After all, what is a plan without some sort of management or control to steer it in the right direction and ensure the project stays on course. Therefore, this is an essential concept of project management. Without this concept, even with a good plan a project could be led astray never to return back on track. Knowing how to take charge and when to take charge is absolutely imperative.