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What Is Project Management?

What is project management?

When you think of project management, you probably think of someone who’s in charge. And in many respects, you’d be right. A project manager is responsible for making sure a specific project goes from conception to reality as quickly and easily as possible.

Of course, even the best-laid plans don’t execute without a hitch, and that’s where the project manager comes in, adjusting course, smoothing things over, and getting things back on track! But is project management anything more than “just” managing projects?

It is, and this guide will give you the ins and outs of this never-boring job:

Project Management Overview 

What is project management? It’s overseeing a project from beginning to end, with the ultimate goal being the delivery of something valuable, like a product or event. To help manage the project, project managers use specialized knowledge, tools, and techniques to get the job done.

But what is a project?

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The Project Management Institute says projects are “temporary efforts to create value through unique products, services, and processes.” Another way to say it is that a project is everything that’s used or done to help create the end result.

In general, a project consists of three parts: costs, scope, and timeline. Project management is the fine are of finding a reasonable balance between these components. Ideally, they stay in perfect (or, at least, proportional) balance, but that’s not always the case.

If the scope of the project changes, the costs may increase or decrease and the timeline will likely change. Likewise, if the timeline speeds up, there may be a change in the scope and costs. No matter what changes, it’s up to the project manager to make the necessary adjustments to keep things in balance.

Though many project management roles began in industries like pharmaceuticals, aerospace, and engineering, over time, more industries and companies recognized the value of a formal project management process. Now project managers work in a variety of fields, like IT, market research, and construction.

Types of Project Management

You might be surprised to learn that projects are everywhere. And you’ve likely managed more projects than you realize.

According to Mei Lin, senior business program manager at Microsoft, “Projects are in every area of our lives. Whether it’s a party you’re planning, a family reunion, prom, or graduation, we are all involved in or leading projects. The beauty of project management is that you’re making ideas a reality, so we are making an impact on the world around us all the time.”

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Though project management essentially has one function (to manage the project), there are different types of project management methods:

  • Waterfall: The project moves in a linear and sequential timeline. Each section of the project is completed before the team moves on to the next one.
  • Agile: This method breaks up the project into phases. Each phase asks for collaborative feedback to iterate and improve the part the team is working on.
  • Scrum: This is based on agile but is a different methodology. The key difference is that scrum focuses on delivering the end product in the shortest amount of time.

Like scrum, there are other methodologies based on waterfall or agile — like kanban, scrumban, and eXtreme programming.

And though you may prefer one type of methodology over another, a significant component of project management is flexibility and adaptability. Lin notes, “As I’ve developed in my career, I’ve realized that there isn’t one perfect methodology or framework and that each organization is different. Adjusting expectations is actually a really important part of being a good project leader. The best project managers evolve into trusted leaders and advisors, who can reset expectations and flex their way of working to suit the organization and the project they are working on.”

Project Management Careers

While you can pursue a long-term career as a project manager, you don’t have to. Many of the skills and experiences you gain in project management are highly transferable to other companies, roles, and industries.

Project Management Roles

In general, “project manager” is the one and only job title. However, like all careers, there are junior- and senior-level titles that indicate how long you’ve been a product manager and how much responsibility you may have.

“The entry-level positions to look out for are assistant or associate project manager or project coordinator roles,” says Lin. “I started out as a project coordinator myself and it was a fantastic way for me to learn from other project managers.” 

Mid-level project manager roles might be project manager or senior project manager. If you continue in project management, you can eventually move into a director or VP role.

Beyond Project Management Jobs

While you may choose to spend your entire career in project management, one of the great things about the profession is that it’s highly portable, meaning you can use your skills in so many ways.

“Because projects are everywhere, project managers work across all industries and sectors — and around the world. And while each industry has its own project management methodologies based on a company’s culture, structure, and strategy, project managers have a common knowledge of foundational skills and methods that are transferable across industries and organizations,” says Lin.

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For example, you can use your project management skills in change management, program management, and product management. Lin applied her skills to change management and currently works on culture initiatives.

“That’s why project management is a great career to prepare the next generation of leaders,” she says, “as you gain a whole toolkit of applicable skills for leadership positions.”

Pros and Cons of Working in Project Management

Like any career, there are pros and cons of working in project management.

Lin says that one of the advantages is that you’re exposed to a variety of industries and professionals. Thanks to that exposure, you’re “constantly gaining new experiences and developing your professional toolkit with new learning opportunities.”

What’s more, because the world is always changing, so are the projects. “You won’t be bored as a project professional!” says Lin. However, she notes that this constant state of change means someone pursuing a project management career needs to be comfortable with change “and even embrace it.”

Another disadvantage of a this career is that there may be times you find yourself responsible and accountable for the entire project but don’t have enough authority to make sure the project moves along smoothly. You may not be able to request additional budget or take the appropriate corrective action when part of the team isn’t pulling their weight.

Not sure if project management is right for you? Learn more about other exciting career paths.

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