Project management takes time. It cannot be treated as something that requires no time to be allocated to it, or that can be done by squeezing it around other activities without freeing up the necessary time; if such an approach is taken then your projects are much more likely to fail. This is a point to be understood not only by project managers but also by sponsors and others in senior management. The point is that project management, like any management activity, requires time. This is not to say that one can never manage a project at the same time as other activities; it simply means that if your diary is already full, you need to make some space in it before you take on something else. The trick is to strike a balance so that enough time is allowed to the project manager but not so much as to risk work expanding to fill excess time allotted to it. Different kinds of project need different amounts of time, and how much time is required is a matter of judgement. Small projects similar to projects that you have managed previously will take less time than large, unfamiliar projects.
Project management is a distinct management discipline. Even managers who are experienced but not in project management will have to learn new skills, that is project management skills, to be successful when running any but the smallest and simplest projects. Other general management skills are relevant to project management but are not sufficient to make success reasonably likely. Many of the skills of general management are also to be found in project management; these include leadership, teamwork, motivation, time management, HR, planning, budgeting and costing, risk management, change management and conflict resolution.
So what is distinctive about project management? In a word, risk. The nature of risk in projects is such that a distinct approach to those general management techniques that are found within project management is required. But let us expand for a few lines on this short answer, the single word 'risk', for there is a debate about whether project management is a subject at all and an argument that it is not distinct from general management. We believe that argument is mistaken for two reasons. First, empirical evidence from practitioners is that there are increasingly large numbers of people who have to manage or be accountable for projects as part of their work and who want to acquire and improve their project management skills as a distinct skill set. Those managers by their actions are saying that there is something distinct about project management, and what is driving them to acquire increased skills in project management is the risk that they have found previously in projects. Secondly, from a theoretical point of view, projects are about doing things that have not been done before, using new teams, under tight time constraints, and often working across existing organizational boundaries. This is likely to mean that while general management skills are applicable, they need to be applied in special ways. This is not so odd: the laws of physics apply equally on land and at sea, but the skills we use for piloting a car are similar to but in practice significantly different from those we use for piloting a boat. Both embody the same principles, but each is adapted to a different environment.
This book is a practical guide to project management, so we will not spend more time on this question, but it is useful for project managers and others responsible for projects to know that it is a distinct management competence, and that competence in other management skills does not automatically translate into competence in project management.
Top of Page