What is Project Management

When discussing with peers or on relevant platforms it appears as if there is some confusion about what is project management. This becomes also apparent when studying recruitment requirements for project managers in job offers. Ask your project manager what is project management. I am sure he will basically talk about scope, time and cost. But that is not all.

Let’s start with a little joke:

A man enters a pet shop and notices a monkey for sale at $10.000. He asks the seller:
“Why is the monkey so expensive?
“Well, he knows how to dig a hole with an excavator.”
A little bit further sits another monkey with a $15.000 price.
“And what can this monkey do for this amount of money?”
“He is an engineer.”
In the end the man also finds a monkey valued at $20.000:
“Incredible! Can you tell me now what can this monkey do? That is a lot of money…”
“Hmm… I do not know exactly what he does but the other monkeys call him Project Manager.”

In this article you will find:

  • Definitions for what is project management,
  • Definitions for what is a project,
  • Project management process groups according to the PMBOK®,
  • A project management process matrix,

Project management knowledge areas will follow in a later article.

What is Project Management and What is a Project – A Few Definitions

Project Management Institute (PMI™)

Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project (plan) activities to meet project requirements. It is accomplished through the appropriate application and integration of the project management processes identified for the project. Project management enables organizations to execute projects effectively and efficiently.

A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result.

Association for Project Management (APM)

Project management is the application of processes, methods, knowledge, skills and experience to achieve the project objectives.

A project is a unique, transient endeavor, undertaken to achieve planned objectives, which could be defined in terms of outputs, outcomes or benefits. A project is usually deemed to be a success if it achieves the objectives according to their acceptance criteria, within an agreed timescale and budget.


Project management is the practice of initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing the work of a team to achieve specific goals and meet specific success criteria at the specified time.

project is a temporary endeavor designed to produce a unique product, service or result with a defined beginning and end (usually time-constrained, and often constrained by funding or staffing) undertaken to meet unique goals and objectives, typically to bring about beneficial change or added value. The temporary nature of projects stands in contrast with business as usual (or operations), which are repetitive, permanent, or semi-permanent functional activities to produce products or services.

What are the Project Management Processes?

The definitions for what is project management are slightly different. Nonetheless, to me the keynote is almost the same. Therefore, let us go deeper into the details of the processes.

I believe that the PMBOK® is widely used and accepted. Therefore, in the following I will refer to it.

Project Process Groups

The PMBOK® defines a number of processes and groups them in so called process groups. Those are a collection of one or more processes and can be understood as a chronological sequence of the project. The individual processes can repeat themselves, as we know from the so-called PDCA cycle. The process groups are:

  1. Initiating,
  2. Planning,
  3. Executing,
  4. Monitoring & controlling,
  5. Closing.

More details about the individual process groups are provided further down.

Project Knowledge Areas

Further the PMBOK® defines so called knowledge areas. The knowledge areas represent complete sets of concepts, terms, and activities that make up a project management field, or area of specialization. The knowledge area are:

  1. Integration Management,
  2. Scope Management,
  3. Schedule Management,
  4. Cost Management,
  5. Quality Management,
  6. Resource Management,
  7. Communications Management,
  8. Risk Management,
  9. Procurement Management, and
  10. Stakeholder Management plus
  11. HSSE Management (in construction),
  12. Financial Management (in construction).

All Processes in a Matrix

The matrix below gives an overview how processes are are arranged in process groups and knowledge areas.

Project Management Matrix PMBOK®

Initiating Process Group

The important tasks in the project initiating phase are:

  • Establishing the business case,
  • Defining project objectives, and
  • Identification of stakeholders.

After this is done, a first cost estimate is prepared. Furthermore, a milestone schedule is prepared and an initial risk analysis performed. As an output the project charter is prepared. It also appoints the project manager.

Contractors, who are concerned with the execution of construction works, often can have a different view. They consider the bid-preparation for a contract as their initiating phase. Read here my thoughts on 9 steps how to start a new project.

Planning Process Group

The planning phase includes the preparation of various documents which, in their entirety, describe the foreseen project life cycle. The result is a workable scheme that includes

  • Clearly defined and sequenced activities,
  • Resources needed,
  • Detailed cost estimates,
  • The schedule, and
  • Strategies how to manage and control certain events and tasks.

In reality the outputs of the planning phase often look different. This is because many project managers only focus on preparing a more or less comprehensive schedule and a cash-flow prediction. Thereby leaving considerations how to deal with change, risk, quality and more until situations occur. The reason for this is, their focus is often mainly on technical considerations. Here are my thoughts on how to start later and finish sooner.

Executing Process Group

This process group is about carrying out all the planned processes while the project is now at full swing.

The core tasks are:

  • Direct and manage project works,
  • Manage project knowledge,
  • Manage quality,
  • Acquire resources,
  • Develop team,
  • Manage team,
  • Manage communications,
  • Implement risk responses,
  • Conduct procurement,
  • Manage stakeholder engagement,
  • Manage HSSE.

Monitoring & Controlling Process Group

Progress of the project is constantly measured and the performance of individual processes is compared against the plan. Both is essential, to enable appropriate quick reaction to arising issues. Methodical reaction is essential for maintaining and improving performance rates. Consequently making adjustments to the planning and questioning the performance of every single process is crucial.

Project Closing Process Group

The project closing process group is concerned with the handing-over of the results and obtaining acceptance. Further preparation of final accounts and records, project review and recommendations for taking up comparable future projects.


Knowledge areas will soon be available in the article continuation…

Also read about starting a new project

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