Many people consider themselves are labeled as or hold the title of Project Manager (PM).
Project manager positions exist in nearly every industry; from construction to food service to medical care, there are PM roles everywhere.
Until recently, I worked in the Architectural, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry as a design Project Manager. During the 30 years that I worked in this industry, I did the same work, which involved managing design projects in the architectural, mechanical, and electrical design disciplines for commercial buildings. This management function involved monitoring and managing schedules, communication, and deliverables. From my experience, the vision I saw of a project manager was someone who coordinated, executed, and oversaw a team or a series of processes regularly in order to achieve a specific positive outcome – your vision may be a little different. In my new role, I serve as an owner’s rep/project manager for construction and renovation projects that range from $100k to over 10 million dollars. No matter the size or costs, the processes are the same.
There are a lot of Project Managers in all kinds of industries, but some may wonder what exactly it is that project managers do. As the title would suggest, project managers, manage projects; sounds simple enough, but what exactly does that mean? Even though project management comes in various forms and industries, there should be a basic understanding or definition of what project management means. Fortunately, there are organizations out there that have covered this in much detail. The Project Management Institute (PMI), which is the largest project management organization in North America, provides the following definition of Project Management:
“Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements. Project management is accomplished through the appropriate application and integration of the 47 logically grouped project management processes which are categorized into five process groups.”
This definition comes from PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide), 5th Edition.
According to PMI, every project goes through a series of process groups; Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring, and Controlling and Closing. Within these groups, you follow a specific set of processes. A simple summary of the process groups follows, although you can get a much more detailed definition and explanation in the PMBOK Guide mentioned above. A project has a start and a finish, but it also has a series of steps or ‘processes’ in between. PMI’s 5th edition PMBOK Guide covers 47 processes in a project’s life cycle, which it organizes under five process groups.
Initiating is the process group that is used to define a new project or a subsequent phase(s) of an ongoing project. This phase is where the scope is defined, and finances are committed to the project, stakeholders are identified, and the project manager is often assigned.
In this series of processes where the scope is better defined and refined, objectives are set, and a course of action is developed.
This phase is where the work gets done on the plan – where the tasks are performed in order to meet the project objectives.
Monitoring and Controlling
This phase is the process group that covers monitoring and tracking in order to review the progress of the project and its overall health. This monitoring is what identifies possible issues that may require changes or updates to the project plan.
This is the final phase and the end of the project cycle. This phase is where a project is finalized and reviewed to ensure that contractual obligations have been met.
Although most people will not think to the level of detail above, understanding the flow of a Project and what happens in each phase is essential to make the outcome successful. While working with a couple of large companies that have their own project management standards, I saw some various views of project phases.
- Monitoring and Controlling
Now that we have some definition of what project management is and have an idea of flow, what defines a project? According to PMI, a project is:
“A temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result.”
A project is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources. This definition comes from PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide), 5th Edition.
As mentioned above, PMI is the biggest player in North America, but they are a recognized international organization as well. PMI is not the only project management resource, though; other organizations include the International Project Management Association (IPMA), the Association for Project Management (APM), and the American Society for the Advancement of Project Management (ASAPM).
The IPMA and the ASAPM are member organizations comprised of other Project Management associations from around the world (APM in the UK, AIPM in Australia, PMAC of Canada, GPM in Germany, IPM in Ireland, etc.). There is no shortage of available project management resources out there.
Now that we have definitions of both project management and a project, what does that mean for the project manager’s role or roles?
The Project Manager (PM) has many roles, and because of this, it requires many skill sets. Some of the most critical skills of successful PMs are good communication, organization, negotiation, and discipline. These and many other skills allow a PM to keep a project on track through its various stages. I will cover more about the Project Managers’ skill sets in a future article.
Projects happen in all industries, but for the sake of this article, let us look at how a typical building design project may go through the previously mentioned flow.
Initiating is probably the phase that many in the design world get brought in after. This phase still happens, but it typically happens at the customer’s level with their executive team. If they think they are in need of a building, whether it be a new factory, office building or warehouse for distribution and storage, or just an expansion or renovation to an existing facility, they need to do some homework. The customer will create a list of their needs and resources, generate a business case, and pitch it to their advisors’ board. At some point, they will reach out to a developer or possibly directly to an architect if they already have the real estate that they need. There is no one method that this starts – architects, developers and contractors can come in at various parts of the initiating process – because as we know from the definition of a project, it is unique, so each one is different.
The planning phase is the most critical part of a project, and it may include some or all of the previously mentioned parties. The planning phase is so important because it is where most of the work gets done that can make or break a project. The design team is put together, the needs are established, vetted, and organized on their level of importance, costs are determined, and a schedule is developed. A methodology is chosen to move the project forward during the planning stage, which could be Design Bid Build, Design-Build, Construction Manager, or possibly Integrated Project Delivery (IPD). Typically, the more time spent in the planning stage, the better the outcome of the project.
The executing stage is where the work gets done and is typically the longest phase of the project. In the AEC world, this is where the contractor(s) start the actual building process. The project shifts from paper or model to a real world building. Depending on how well the planning was done, this part of the project can go very smooth or can be a rough ride.
Monitoring and Controlling
This phase is not a standalone phase; it actually starts during the Planning phase and covers the Executing and Closing phases as well. Monitoring and controlling is how the budget, schedule, and project methodology are monitored, reported on and of course controlled. This entails verifying when extra costs come up or schedule delays happen that need to be corrected. By constantly monitoring the schedule and budget, you can catch issues before they spiral out of control.
The closing process is where the record drawings are finalized to match what was actually installed (important for facilities maintenance), make sure all outstanding invoices are paid, liens are released, warranty information is collected and filed and a lessons learned review is done. The lessons learned can come in handy for future projects that the customer may do and will be very helpful for the design and construction team to make sure any issues or benefits that were discovered during the process can be applied to their future projects.
Do these process groups and steps seem familiar or fall in line with your day to day workflow? If so, you may be a project manager.
Do you have questions about this or other project management topics or would you like to see more detail on a specific area? If so, please send me an email with your questions or comments.