A paper presented to the Project Management Symposium on PM: Project Manager Role Evolution, Rome, Italy, 2004.

Updated 7/3/04

"PMI" and "PMBOK" are the registered trademarks of the Project Management Institute.
Published here July 2004.

Introduction | Characteristics of Project Management
Projects, Programs, and Project Portfolios | Defining Project Categories and Sub-Categories  
Classifying Projects within Categories and Sub-Categories | Project Portfolios
Organizational Capabilities and Maturity in Project Management | PART 2

Characteristics of Project Management

Projects exist in every type of human enterprise. They are unique, complex undertakings that create new products, facilities, services, and events, among other things, bring about major organizational and other desired changes or recovery from natural or man-made disasters. Projects have starting and ending points in time and progress through a number of life cycle phases.

The discipline of project management has evolved because the more traditional, well-established industrial age principles and methods for managing our classical functional organizations (involving ongoing, repetitive operations of various kinds) do not work well for planning, controlling, and managing projects, programs, or project portfolios. Projects are comprised of diverse tasks that require diverse specialist skills, and hence cut across the traditional functional organizational lines. They are temporary endeavors with a finite lifetime and so do not provide stable organizational homes for the people involved. The challenge is to accomplish the right projects at the right time while providing stable homes that develop the diverse skills needed for all the specialists who contribute to the projects.

Key differentiating characteristics of project management when compared to functional organization management are:

  • Assignment of integrative responsibilities related to each project, program and project portfolio (as defined in the following section):
    • General manager/managing director
    • Portfolio steering groups (or portfolio governance committees)
    • Project and program sponsors (or directors)
    • Manager of project management (or Chief Projects Officer/CPO) (or Project Management Office/PMO)
    • Project and program managers
    • Affected functional (specialist) managers and functional project leaders.
      These responsibilities are fully described in current project management literature (for example see Archibald 2003, pp 82-106 and 201-225.)
  • Application of integrative and predictive practices, methods, systems and tools for producing and effectively using the information required to plan, schedule, monitor, and control the scope, risks, schedules, resources and costs of projects, programs and project portfolios, integrating their entire life cycles. Iterative processes are sometimes required, (for software or R&D projects) but these still have a predictive objective for the entire project
  • Building and directing each project and program team, comprised of the multidiscipline functional managers and specialists needed to create, plan, execute, and manage each project and program.

In almost every case the evolution of the project management discipline within a complex organization results in a project/functional matrix of responsibilities that can range from a weak to a strong matrix, referring to the authority of the project and program managers to give project direction to the project team members.

Managing the Total Project Life Cycle: The primary (some say the only) difference between projects and an ongoing enterprise as something to be managed is that the project has a life cycle: it starts, is executed, and it ends. More elaborately, a project has a number of life cycle phases, the simplest definition of which includes concept, definition, execution, and closeout phases. (Life cycle models are discussed in more detail in a later section.) The practice of project management has moved from focusing in the early years on planning and controlling the execution of projects to include presently the conceptual phases, and project portfolio management (discussed later) provides the needed linkage between strategic growth management of the organization and project management. Extension of the project life cycle to include achieving the desired results from completion of a project is now a reality for some practitioners.

Achieving the Project Benefits: In 2003 we see movement toward including within the project management discipline the important post-completion objective of achieving the benefits from completion of the project. Projects frequently require changes in the organization itself in order to gain the benefits from the results of the project. Thus project management often encompasses organizational change brought on by the successful completion of a project. This can be considered as a post-completion project phase, perhaps named "project results integration" or "project benefits realization."

If the project has been executed under contract for an external customer, then the primary benefit will be whatever financial profit has been realized under the contract. Plus of course the experience gained and the possibility of future business with that customer, or with other customers using the experience gained. For the customer or purchaser of the project it is necessary to integrate the project results (new information system, new office building, new process plant, new product, for example) into the ongoing business operations.

In his book Time-to Profit Project Management, Fern (1999) provides an example of this. This book emphasizes that the goal of new commercial product development project management is not simply to launch a new product, but to achieve a profit with that product in the marketplace. "Most chief executive officers now want to know when they will get the benefits and the forecast level of benefit, rather than when the project will be complete and at what cost. Processes and systems to answer these questions are still being developed and are far from maturity" (Harpham 2000, p 4). A "business change manager" is sometimes appointed with responsibility for realizing the project benefits.

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