Project management seems to appear in the media mostly when it fails. Studies are released frequently to great fanfare on why projects fail. Senior officials appear in the news to apologize for major cost overruns in public projects.
You’d think that project management would be something to avoid!
But to an entrepreneur it is one of the most important skills they need. And it is one of the most important skills they need to seek out as their organization grows. Unfortunately, it is also one of the least understood skills that a typical entrepreneur brings to the table. And it is the last skill they think of as they build their business.
What is project management? And more importantly, why should you care?
One might think from the term that project management is managing projects. However, that is portfolio management. Project management is a much more difficult and complex discipline. In this article, I’m going to define project management, and explain how it differs from normal business management. Along the way, I’ll also explain why you, as an entrepreneur, need to encourage its development within your business.
First off, let’s get the term project out of the way. A project is a business endeavor, which produces a unique product, service or result. So far, that isn’t very helpful. Most business operations do that. However, a project has two key characteristics that aren’t common.
First, it is temporary. It has a beginning and an end. Most business operations do not have an end. Or at least one hopes not. Normally, business operations begin during the entrepreneurial phase of the business. But they quickly settle into a permanent routine. Project management, however, does not deal with the routine.
Second, projects are unique. They exist to create a single product, different from all other products. An operating business is all about repetition. It’s about creating the same product over and over. Only in that way, can the process be refined.
Building your business is a project. It has a beginning — when you first conceived the business. And it has an end — when the business moves into the growth and stability phases. And it creates a unique result — the business.
Project management, then is all about managing under these two conditions.
Normal operating management is concerned with repeating the same thing over a long period. And it develops the appropriate skills and knowledge to deal with that. For example, a manager learns to keep his team happy and producing at their maximum. He seldom if ever deals with the initial building of a team. And hopefully, he never has to deal with the end of his team.
Project management however, is concerned with building a unique result in a cycle of creation, doing, disbanding. It has developed the appropriate skills and knowledge to deal with beginning and ending a cycle. For example, a project manager learns to build a team and to disband a team. She is constantly in the building and ending phases and often never deals with a static team’s problems.
From an entrepreneur’s view, there are two major points of interest. First, building a company is a project. During that project, the entrepreneur will be involved in both strategic and operation elements. For example, he or she needs to identify the market and niche to address. And they will frequently be involved in selling to major or even all customers. However, management of the process of building a business is a case of project management.
But it doesn’t end with building the business.
In any business, there is a need to identify what is happening around the organization and how the business should react. This is strategic management. Its focus is on change and the future.
On the other hand, the organization needs to carry out its current function. This is the job of the operations elements of the business. Marketing, accounting, production are all concerned with today, and yesterday. Their focus is on continuation and repeating the same processes. Change is their enemy.
Of course, operations can’t be allowed to stay running in the place. They need to be steered or the business will fail eventually. The plans, goals and strategies identified by the strategic managers need to implemented. This is the role of project management. And it’s why an entrepreneur needs to ensure that project management skills are available to the organization as quickly as possible.