The Nature and Purpose of Project Management

Project management as we know it today has evolved in order to plan, coordinate, and control the complex and diverse activities of modern industrial, commercial, and management change projects.

Clearly, man-made projects are not new; monuments surviving from the earliest civilizations testify to the incredible achievements of our forebears and still evoke our wonder and admiration. Modern projects, for all their technological sophistication, are not necessarily greater in scale than some of those early mammoth works. But economic pressures of the industrialized world, military defense needs, competition between rival companies, and greater regard for the value and well-being (and hence the employment costs) of working people have all led to the development of new ideas and techniques for managing projects.

All projects share one common characteristic – the projection of ideas and activities into new endeavors. The ever-present element of risk and uncertainty means that the events and tasks leading to completion can never be foretold with absolute accuracy. For some very complex or advanced projects even the possibility of successful completion might be in serious doubt.

The purpose of project management is to foresee or predict as many of the dangers and problems as possible and to plan, organize, and control activities so that projects are completed as successfully as possible in spite of all the risks. This process starts before any resource is committed, and must continue until all work is finished. The primary aim of the project manager is for the final result to satisfy the project sponsor or purchaser, within the promised timescale and without using more money and other resources than those that were originally set aside or budgeted.

Much of the development in project management methods took place in the second half of the twentieth century, spurred by impatient project purchasers (who wanted their projects finished quickly so that their investments could be put to profitable use as soon as possible). Competition between nations for supremacy in weapons and defense systems played a significant role in the development of project management techniques, and the process has been accelerated by the widespread availability of powerful, reliable, and cheap computers. Project management is more effective when it makes use of these sophisticated techniques and facilities and, in this sense, is a highly specialized branch of management.

Planning and control must, of course, be exercised over all the activities and resources involved in a project. The project manager therefore needs to understand how all the various participants operate, and to appreciate (at least in outline) their particular skills, working methods, problems, and weaknesses. This demands a fairly wide degree of general experience so that, in this practical sense, project management is akin to general management.