What Is Project Management and How Can It Help Your Career?

Before we can answer the question – What is project management? – we need to define projects. A project has three main attributes, it is unique, it is time-bound and it has limited resources.

Unique. The most significant characteristic of a project is uniqueness . Think St Peter's Basilica and the Coliseum in Rome or the pyramids of Egypt. Unquestionably, the design and construction of each of these structures was a project with a unique deliverable. Although every project is different, these differences can sometimes be subtle. If we think about the construction of the pyramids, building a number of pyramids, each with the same materials, might seem like repetition of the same work. But different construction teams, different designs and different terrain, transforms each pyramid into a unique undertaking; a project.

Time-bound. Projects are the work we do once . They have clearly defined start and finish points. Whether it is constructing a building, designing new software or writing an iPhone App, once the construction or design is complete and the product or service goes into operation, the project ends.

Limited resources . Every project has limited resources of some kind, such as a budgets set by the client, a limited number of available resources such as people, plant or equipment, the number of work hours that can be fitted in between the start and finish dates, and so on.

So if projects are temporary endeavors with limited resources that result in unique one-off outcomes, what is project management?

It is the art and science of allocating, using and tracking resources to achieve the specified goal within the defined period of time. It involves the application of all the methods, tools and techniques to deliver success on unique, one-time efforts. These include managing time, human resources and financial resources to deliver successful results. Project management isn't just about creating schedules and budgets though. The more challenging aspect is bringing diverse groups of people together to solve problems and take advantage of new opportunities.

The principles at the heart of project management, including defining goals, organizing, planning and managing are not new and have been practiced in one form or another over history. As far back as the 5th century BC Sun Tzu referred to the theory of managing soldiers in his treatise the Art of War. He covered deliberation and planning, clearness of conception, depth of design and the importance of rapidity in undertaking action. Niccolo Machiavelli in his 15th century study of statecraft "The Prince" refers to the need for effective leadership and change management.

However it was not until the 20th century that people began to think more systematically about the work they did and the discipline of project management began to emerge. The Project Management Institute, based in the United States, the International Project Management Association and other standards organizations have formalized the discipline over the past five decades.

Knowing how to apply project management tools and techniques are skills that many employers are looking for. It doesn't only mean managing a major project from start to finish. It can also involve handling routine day-to-day projects that need to be completed. Polishing your project management abilities so that you can achieve project outcomes through the effective coordination of resources – time, money, people and materials – will boost your career opportunities.