What are the Key Elements in Project Management?

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What Really Constitutes Project Management?

In Project Management for the Web Geek on SitePoint, author Meri Williams, writes about what is and is not Project Management as she covers key elements in project management.

According to the author, a project manager is someone who makes the project happen, stays within budget, and ensures a valued product. She’s right. However, Williams breaks down project management into three components: initiating, planning, and closing the project. Yet, the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK), published by the Project Management Institute states there are five phases of project management, the author lumps phases two, three and four into one.

Williams begins her description of project management basics with the Initiation phase, describing it as the contract or agreement phase. This is where you sit with your client to find out why this project is happening, what they are trying to achieve, and what are they expecting from this project. Many projects that are not set up correctly are likely to fail; therefore it is extremely important to make clear the project expectations and objectives from the very beginning. This description is in line with the first of PMBOK’s project management phases.

During the Initiation phase and throughout the project, an effective project manager is armed with a variety of tools including a simple project initiation document. This document ensures that everyone involved thoroughly comprehends the purpose and objective for the project, how the project goals are going to be achieved, time constraints, and the final product.

The Planning phase is the next step and a crucial one. This is where you form a better understanding of what needs to be done and the goals to achieve, identify tasks and priorities, develop preferred ways of communication with the client, and gather your project team members so that everyone fully understands how to execute the project to a successful final closure.

As you progress through the Planning phase, you’ll develop a project plan. The project plan is a tool you use to categorize tasks, create timelines, and assign tasks to team members, and is often tracked using project management software.

At this stage, you’ll also create milestones to mark important project checkpoints. According to Williams, when assigning milestones, it is better to break them down into mini-milestones and assign them to one person. She writes, “Clear responsibility makes it easier to get stuff done, and your team will appreciate that you show your trust in them.”

Along with a project plan, a prepared project manager will also have a risk management plan. You can count on something going wrong while working on the project - it will happen. If you have a risk plan, you will know how to deal with what might go wrong and what you are going to do in order to rectify the situation. It is recommended that you discuss this plan with your client so that they can be prepared should something go wrong whether it is minor or severe.

Once your project plan is in place, it’s time to execute your project plan and monitor your project progress. It’s these two phases in the project management process in which the author simply misses the mark.

While the author recognizes the importance of keeping your client informed and even admits that, “most of your time will be spent doing the work (executing), keeping things on track (controlling), and re-planning as needed,” she neglects to highlight the Execution and Controlling (or, Monitoring) phases with the same emphasis she places on the other three phases.

Once your project is finished and launched, you can begin the final phase: Closing. During this phase, it is important to have a close-out meeting. According to Meri Williams, “the outcome of a successful close-out meeting is that everyone is satisfied that the project is finished and that provision has been made for the future. Depending on the circumstances of your particular project, the latter will either center around a Service Level Agreement (SLA) or a training plan.”