Project management is a tool for conducting and completing unique, one-of-a-kind projects or functions necessary for execution of the strategy of a company without disrupting what would otherwise be the normal workflow of the company. In general, project management creates and imposes a temporary management system over the normal organizational design of the company in order to accomplish a specific task or activity. Harold Kerzner, one of the leaders in research relating to project management, offers the following useful formal definition of project management that identifies key elements of the process: “Project management is the planning, organizing, directing, and controlling of company resources for a relatively short-term project that has been established to completed specific goals and objectives. Furthermore, project management utilizes the systems approach to management by having functional personnel (the vertical hierarchy) assigned to a specific project (the horizontal hierarchy).”
Planning, organizing, directing and controlling are four of the five functions or activities that are normally associated with traditional management and each of these are reflected in the definition of project management set out above. Missing from the array of activities delegated to a project manager is the responsibility for “staffing,” which is the fifth activity that is normally associated with traditional management. The reason is that staffing remains a line responsibility and the project manager can only request resources while the final decision as to what, and how many, resources will be diverted to the project will normally be left to the line managers for each of the functions involved in the project. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, for situations when senior management intercedes and overrides the discretion of line managers to ensure that sufficient resources are diverted to certain mission-critical projects that must take priority over day-to-day tasks and activities.
While project management pertains to “relatively short-term projects,” there is no hard and fast rule with respect to scope and duration. For example, engineering or construction projects may be as short as six months and as long as five years. Large projects, such as the designing, building and launching a nuclear power facility or a state-of-the-art manufacturing plan, may take as long as ten years. For most small organizations, however, short-term projects generally must be completed within three to twelve months.
For internal projects, the relevant constraints include time, cost and performance. When the project is done for a customer, an additional constraint – customer satisfaction – must be added. Another thing to consider for customer-focused projects is that the customer is concerned only with results and has no real interest in how the company organizes the way in which the project is approached and completed.