by Dexter Duncan

Whether you are deploying a project in the cloud or with bricks and mortar or developing a new product launch or scheduling a regular marketing event, you’ll need to use some project management tools.   This series is the result of a request to give a project management overview to 50 esteemed students, so here is a work in progress:

Firstly, let’s define a Project:

A temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result.

A project (different from routine work) has a defined beginning  and end.  The end is when objectives are achieved or project is terminated.      Temporary does not mean short duration nor does it imply that the result is short lived.   In fact, many projects are undertaken to create a lasting outcome.    For example – buildings, monuments or parks.

Here is a popular “successful” project from past:   Empire State Building

The Empire State Building held the record of the tallest building in the world for 40 years and it was started after another building, the Chrysler Building, was already in progress of becoming the world’s tallest.     The building and its construction is a legend of how crazy ideas can be achieved with a mix of bravado, competition, risk, networking and money.   In the age before computers and at the start of the Great Depression, this mammoth building was erected in just over 12 months.   From American Society of Civil Engineers:

The building’s framework rose at an astonishing rate of 4 ½ stories per week. During construction of the Empire State Building, its peak workforce amounted to 3,400 workers including 328 arch laborers, 290 bricklayers, 384 brick laborers, 225 carpenters, 107 derrick operators, 105 electricians, 249 elevator installers, 194 heating and ventilation installers, 192 plumbers, 285 steelworkers, a number of other specialists, plus clerks, foremen, inspectors, and water boys.

See the ASCE website for more facts.     We will use this example later when talking about project life cycles.

Secondly, project management is a system with standard definitions.   Perhaps the most well known is Project Management Institute (PMI) and their Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) which is representative of a global standard.    The importance of having common language and practices is the foundational science part.  There are around 40 micro processes that are defined.   The good product manager knows the art of when, where and how to apply them.   If you apply all the micro processes to each project, you are likely wasting time and money.

Project management is:

The application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities to meet project requirements. (Source: PMBOK Guide)

Those that are interested can become full-time, certified project managers by passing exams and applying the craft.

Why PM?   The main outcome is to achieve results that are:

  • Delivered on time
  • Within the budget ($)
  • High Confidence in Quality
  • Meets Original Purpose
  • Is a win/win for all stakeholders

Importance of Processes

  • A good process should be written down, known & followed by all and have built-in reviews that result in constant improvement(s) (e.g. a feedback loop).

Here is one way to look at the big picture of the major components in project management:

Figure 1: How to manage a project – the process groups (Source: LDT consulting).

The five processes groups:

1. Initiation – Determines if project is worth doing.

The Initiation Process Group is where stakeholders are identified, goals and vision are set, business case is prepared and project is authorised by the sponsor.      The most important part of this is the business case which looks at whether the project is worth doing.     The scope is broadly defined giving parameters and boundaries for the project.

2. Planning (Design) – how work will be done, including how the deliverables and project will be developed and managed.

This stage is perhaps the most important since the scope of effort is established, boundaries are drawn, risks are estimated and methods of monitoring and control are defined based on the course of action taken.  A project needs to be broken into a group of the smallest possible deliverables (where possible) with clear definitions/descriptions, including responsibility, cost, dependencies and risks.   The process of subdividing deliverables into smaller tasks is called Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) which will be covered later.  Each activity is defined including resources, time durations, sequence (dependencies) into an activity list that is analysed and placed into a project schedule.    An estimated cost for each activity is developed and an overall budget is developed.   Another important feature of the planning process that is often missed is the communications plan.

3. Executing

After all the planning, this is where the work gets done.    It is important to direct and manage the various teams, control quality and ensure good communication with team and stakeholders.    In some cases, the plan needs to be changed in order to meet quality, time or budget constraints.

4. Monitoring and Controlling

Monitoring and Controlling processes are used throughout the initiation, planning and executing phases to ensure project objectives are met.    The overall control of scope, schedule, costs, quality, risks and a change process are part of this.

5. Closing

One of the most important aspects of closing is to get acceptance from stakeholder(s).   This is usually done after going through a task check-list, documenting project results and making recommendations for future.

Other General Information: Project Teams, Sample Projects and Approaches.

For large projects, each of the above can have a dedicated team.    For smaller projects a single team can divide all the tasks to fit into process areas.

Sample Teams can be divided in a number of ways:

  1. Project Manager, Expert Resources, Sponsor(s) & Stakeholders
  2. Teams based around processes – Initiation team, Planning team, Execution team, Monitoring team & Closing team.
  3. Phase based teams:  Different teams assigned according to outcomes in a multiple phase project.

Figure 1.2: Sample of process group interaction.

Sample projects

  • An example single phase project.  Installation of a telecommunications network.
  • An example of a multiphase project.   Cleaning up a hazardous waste site.
  • Sample Mega projects – from $1.5 Billion to $40 Billion (from PMI)

Figure 2: Single and Multi phase projects (source: PMBOK Guide)

Deciding whether to use a single phase, multiple phase or layered multi-phase structure of a project can vary dramatically.    Some organisations have policies on which structure to use and some leave it to the project team.     The structure might be applied based on common industry practice or based on the project team.   In other words, a research study can be treated as pre-project work, the first phase of a project or as a stand-alone project.   Similarly, one project team might elect to apply a multi-phase approach and another team may use a single phase for an identical project.    An overlapping, multiphase project is sometimes called “fast-tracking”.

Figure 3: Cost and Staffing across Project Life cycle (Source: PMBOK Guide)

With 3400 labourers and the Empire State Building had a cost of around $USD41 million in 1932.   The Empire State Building was a multi-phase and overlapping project.

Occupying a plot of land approximately two acres (8,100 square meters) in size, the Empire State Building contains 70 miles (121 km) of water mains, 2.5 million feet (232,000 m) of electrical wiring, 1,060 miles (1,700 km) of telephone cables, 50 miles (129 km) of radiator pipe, and 73 elevators in 7 miles (18 km) of shafts.  (Source ASCE website.)

Article on how to prioritise projects from PMI:

Ideas on Success or Failure of projects:   Was Sydney Opera house a success?   Was Empire State Building a failure?     It depends on your perspective.  Have a look at this article on success and failure.

Part 2 will go into Initiating a project in more detail.

Importance of Risk Assessment (& Mitigation)

Part 3 in this series will go into Project Planning in more detail.

Importance of Planning


1.Project Management Institute (PMI):


2. Project Management History and Overview:


3. Empire State Building Links

Construction Company.com  http://www.constructioncompany.com/historic-construction-projects/empire-state-building/



One thought on “Intro to Project Management (Part 1)

  1. Thanks . That was very helpful. There is a lot of activity going around in my company about scrum and some teams are having daily stand ups etc. Do you think that like PMP, having a Scrum certification will help me in my career?

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