A project manager is exactly what it sounds like: a person who manages projects.
But what’s a project?
According to the Project Management Institute, a project is defined as “a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.” Project management applies the knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques used by project managers to meet the requirements of an undertaking.
It’s a mouthful. Simply put, a project manager facilitates results. He or she works with resources, dates, timelines, budgets and more to ensure goals and expectations are met (or exceeded) for all parties involved.
Project management is a skill that people practice and study. When executed properly from beginning to end, it usually follows these five steps:
- Initiating the project. Everything starts with an idea, and projects are no exception. In the initiation stage, this idea for a project is carefully vetted to make sure, when fully realized, it will benefit the organization. If the benefit can be clearly identified, then decision makers have to decide whether or not the project can be realistically completed with the resources available. A project moves forward only when both criteria are satisfied.
- Defining a project and coming up with a plan. These plans are called project charters or scopes, and they’re the blueprints of a project committed to writing. They’re used to outline all the work that needs to be done in order to complete the project, and during this stage, teams can more accurately figure out how long the project will take and exactly how much it is going to cost.
- Launching and executing your project. A project can successfully launch when each individual resource knows exactly how he or she is contributing, the timeline on which their tasks need to be completed, and responsibilities later on in the project lifecycle. Communication is key in this element, and when everyone understands their role in the project, it sets a good precedent for later on.
- Monitoring the project. A project is made up of several moving parts, and it typically needs significant management and monitoring. During this element, project managers reconcile the team’s progress versus the blueprint that was created in Step 2. Many times, because of unforeseen changes to the scope or the project team, schedules will require revision and workloads will need to be redistributed to keep the project on track.
- Closing the project. Once all tasks are completed and the project has been approved, the team can rest easy. Project managers, however, spend this time evaluating the outcome. What went right? Where are the opportunities for improvement? What can the team learn from the experience? What steps should be taken to ensure the next project goes even better?
These five steps encompass almost everything project managers experience over the lifecycle of a project. Because it’s presented at such a high level, however, it’s far from a comprehensive list. Luckily, for those ambitious readers looking to do more research on the topic, there are many resources available that discuss the intricacies of the craft in great detail.