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What is a project?

Before we get started on project management topics, it's essential to understand some key points & terminology. The most basic being, what is a project? Just knowing the answer to this fairly simple question can get you several questions correct on the exam.

So what is a project anyways?

According to the PMBOK, projects have some common traits. Projects are temporary. And projects are progressively elaborated, meaning that details will become clearer as the project is better understood. But if you are like any smart project manager, and I know you are since you are visiting my website, then you are skeptical and asking, but what does that really mean? What is a project really?

Well it helps to understand what it is NOT. Projects are not business as usual efforts such as production support bug fixes. With production support, you typically are troubleshooting an issue to fix. You have no idea what is wrong. But you perservere, trying to figure out what the heck is wrong and how to resolve asap. It's more of a "hurry up and get it done" mentality. Not the same with a project. Projects require planning and a understanding of what you are trying to "fix" or accomplish. Project planning entails coming up with a realistic schedule and a realistic budget. Notice the repetition here. REALISTIC is key. If no one thinks the schedule or the cost is feasible or reasonable, then they are probably right. It most likely isn't and you have issues. This is a key point to remember for the exam.

So in summary, a project is temporary, must be authorized (via the project charter), requirements must be clearly defined so you know what must be accomplished, and it requires you as the project manager to do some planning to produce a REALISTIC schedule and REALISTIC budget.

What is project management?

The Project Management Institute (PMI) separates project management into knowledge areas and process groups.

Knowledge areas consist of:

Process groups are:

Thus, this site will organize the information based on this structure. The following is a mapping of knowledge areas to process groups.

    Knowledge Area Process Map

What is a program?

Another key point to know is the definition of a program. A program is a group of projects. Management of the several projects is coordinated. These efforts may share resources, have depenedencies among the efforts, or really be smaller workstreams and/or parts of a larger effort. By managing as a program, benefits such as economies of scale or improved risk management can be realized.

So much like operational work, these efforts differ from projects. So for the exam, be sure you understand the difference between operational (or business as usual) work, projects, and programs.

Triple Constraint

Another key project management concept to understand is the "triple constraint."

The triple constraint refers to impacts to cost, time, scope, quality, risk and customer satisfaction. So being a smart project manager, you counted the items above and already realized that the list has more than 3 items, and hence concluded the term triple constraint is somewhat misleading. Don't get hung up here on the math. Trust me. This is what it is called. And trust also that you will have other areas on the exam to demonstrate your mathematical profiencies. But don't worry, none of the math is too difficult. And this site includes a formula cheat sheet to help you. Formula Cheat Sheet

What is the role of the project manager?

The project manager is responsible for the successful planning, execution, monitoring, control and closure of a project. During a project's life cycle, there are a variety of factors that can hinder the successful delivery of a project. Thus, a project manager's job is to prevent problems. To be clear, this means a project manager must be proactive, not reactive.

Let's use a car metaphor here. And let's use a classic. The Porsche 911.

The project manager is the one in the driver's seat. Project managers are not passengers, merely along for the ride, leisurely looking out the window enjoying the scenery.

Nor are they hanging on the edge of their seat as the car speeds along at 180 mph (like many fast-paced IT projects do).


Anything is possible, particularly in a Porsche.

Customers and organizations push for the project to be delivered faster, smoother, etc. And it's easy to get caught up in all the excitement and quickly lose control of the project, not foreseeing bumps and curves (ie, risks), running out of gas before the end of the drive (ie, cost and schedule overruns), etc. And it's the project manager, the ones behind the wheel, who must competently maintain control and expertly navigate towards the final destination (ie, successful delivery). And project managers are the ones who have to know when to gear down and put on the brakes (ie, review and adjust scope, quality, schedule, cost etc. Or in other words, determine impacts to the triple constraint).

And using the same scenario, it's the project manager who many times must deliver the reality check. Project managers have the tough job of informing the project team that, although sights are set on delivering a Porsche 911, the customer really only needs a reliable and safe ride. (And you know you've been down that road. The business is convinced that the developers are pushing the cutting-edge solution to build their resume. And the developers are thinking, boring!)

Or an even tougher situation is when the project manager must inform the customer that they can only afford a Toyota Camry.

So you are beginning to get the picture of the importance of the project manager's role. It not only entails overseeing the successful delivery and execution of the project, but also setting and managing expectations of stakeholders and the project team.

The following article describes the vast skill set required of the project manager.

      Project Managment Skills

The project manager's level of authority and power varies depending on the organizational structure: