Many times a business must implement a systematic change, such as constructing a building, installing a new computer system, merging with another company, developing a new product, entering a new market, etc. These changes are the results of projects.

A project is an organized undertaking intended to produce a specific outcome subject to limitations of people, time, and money. Projects usually require coordinated work from multiple groups of people, exist for only a limited time, and have goals that become more detailed over time.

Project management consists of processes to initiate, plan, execute, control, and close work on the project. During these processes, tradeoffs must be made between the amount of work (scope), acceptability of the work (quality), cost, and schedule so the project results are useful, timely, and affordable.


Projects, sometimes of massive size, have occurred through human history. Early construction projects included the building of pyramids, cities, and medieval cathedrals. Other early projects included waging wars and building empires. While the results of these projects were often impressive, the human cost and time to complete them were sometimes staggering. Many thousands of workers and decades of time were often required.

In the 20th century, project managers have had to learn to manage costs and schedules much more closely, yet still achieve desired results. In the 1950s and 1960s techniques for planning and controlling schedules and costs were developed, primarily on huge aerospace and constructions projects. Much of this development was based on the concept of determining precedence relationships (that is, identifying which work activities must be completed before other work activities). Modern project management builds upon this. In the 1980s and 1990s many software companies offered ever more powerful and easy ways to plan and control project costs and schedules. The information technology and telecommunications industries especially have fueled massive growth in the use of project management in the 1990s. Now project management is commonly used in a wide variety of industries.

The trend in increasing use of project management is likely to continue. Business is faced with the challenges of more complex products and services, demands for higher quality outputs, more cost-conscious customers, faster development cycles, stiffer international competition, and increased use of joint ventures to share risk and leverage expertise. These challenges force business to quickly and inexpensively develop complex solutions. Project management is designed to help business leaders do just that.


There are many terms that can be confused with project management. The differences are usually one of size or organization. For example, enormous projects are often called programs. A program can usually be divided into multiple projects. For example, the multibillion-dollar development of a new aircraft can be described as a program composed of many projects that involve systems such as avionics of engines. Alternatively, the new aircraft program could have separate projects for various stages such as design or testing.

Projects, in turn, can be broken down into smaller sets of activities. These smaller sets of work are sometimes called subprojects, hammock activities, or work breakdown structure summary activities. These can, in turn, be broken down into still smaller sets of work called activities, tasks, or work packages. Responsibility for smaller sets of work is often assigned to one person or department while the project itself often requires multiple people, departments, or even companies to complete. Project management techniques can be applied to planning and managing both these larger and smaller undertakings.

As stated previously, project management is the set of processes used to accomplish a goal. The term "task force" is sometimes used interchangeably with project management. Functional, matrix, and project forms of organization refer to how a business is structured. While companies that have many projects are sometimes structured as matrix or project organizations, projects can be managed in any form of organizational structure.


All projects are performed to achieve a specific desired output. This output can be described both by its amount, size, or performance characteristics (scope) and by how well it serves its intended purpose and pleases its customers (quality). Scope and quality collectively are the project goals.

All projects have finite amounts of time, money, people, and other resources. They are also limited by technology and legal requirements. All of these limitations must be taken into account when managing project activities. There are many tools for planning, scheduling, monitoring, and reporting project activities. Business managers accomplish project goals—subject to the limitations faced—by using these tools, collectively referred to as project management tools.

Projects face different challenges than ongoing operations because of their defined start and stop points, unique output, and unique mix of workers. All nine of the following areas need to be planned and managed differently on projects: scope, time, cost, quality, risk, procurement, human resources, communications, and integration.

All project activities occur in a predictable pattern called the project life cycle. There are several distinct stages in the project life cycle. By understanding and planning for the events at each of these stages, a project manager has more chance for project success since important work will not be neglected and progress can be checked while there is still an opportunity to replan if necessary. Different industries and professional groups have defined project life cycles with four or more stages and with some variation in specific activities that reflect the unique demands of their industry. A simplified generic description of the project life cycle with typical names for the various stages and key activities associated with each stage follows.

The first project life cycle stage is often titled definition, initiate, or conceive. This stage starts with establishing the need for the project output. Then a project manager and possibly other core team members are assigned. The scope (desired output) is defined and approximate time and resource estimates are made to determine if it is feasible to achieve the desired output. Different strategies or alternative approaches are explored and one is selected. Finally, approval to proceed to the next phase is obtained. This often is in the form of a project charter that summarizes the results of the work in the definition stage; it is agreed to by both the project team and the organization's management.

The second stage is called planning, design, or development. Sometimes this stage is broken into two or more stages such as preliminary planning and detailed planning. Additional project team members may be assigned. Scope, quality standards, risks, interim deliverables, work activities, a schedule, resource needs, and responsibilities are defined or further refined. Once this planning is complete, approval to proceed to the next stage is obtained.

The next stage—often called execution, implementation, or construction—is when most of the actual project work is completed. Goods and services needed to complete the project are procured. (This procurement is sometimes defined as a separate stage.) The project organization, procedures, and reporting mechanisms are established. Project work activities are directed, monitored, and redirected, always keeping the project goals and limitations in mind. The output of the project frequently needs to be accepted in order to proceed to the last stage.

The final stage is phase-out, turnover, or start-up. Activities include transferring responsibility for the project outcome to the user, reassigning workers and other resources, and evaluating the project with an eye toward improving future projects.

Project management is a process that includes initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing work activities so that the project goals can met while taking into consideration limitations such as time, money, people, and other resources. Many work endeavors are already managed as projects. Increasing competitive pressures, improving software, and improving knowledge of project management concepts and techniques are likely to mean more work will be managed as projects in the future.

SEE ALSO : Matrix Management and Structure

[ Timothy J. Kloppenborg , Ph.D. ]


Cleland, David I., ed. Field Guide to Project Management. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1998.

Duncan, William R. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. Upper Darby, PA: Project Management Institute, 1996.

Kloppenborg, Timothy J., and Samuel J. Mantel Jr. "Tradeoffs on Projects: They May Not Be What You Think." Project Management Journal, March 1990.

Martin, Paula, and Karen Tate. Project Management Memory Jogger. Methuen, MA: GOAUQPC, 1997.

Meredith, Jack R., and Samuel J. Mantel Jr. Project Management: A Managerial Approach. 3rd ed. New York: Wiley, 1995.

Shtub, Avraham, Jonathon F. Bard, and Shlomo Globerson. Project Management: Engineering, Technology, and Implementation. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1994.

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