“What is project management?” seems like a crazy question to ask but judging by discussions on the forum and even with clients, it’s fair to say there are many opinions weighing in on the topic and causing some confusion. It can sometimes be defined by our environment whether corporate or otherwise, and those voices are coming in from all around the world. I like to start things out right with a clear definition, and even though my normal go-to reference is Google, today it’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), 4rth Edition by the Project Management Institute (PMI). According to the PMBOK guide, project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to the project activities to meet task requirements.
In other words, activities produce the project’s scope/deliverables, and we are inputting our knowledge as the PM—our skills, different tools and techniques—in some kind of application process against the project activities. There a lot of different things going on to produce needed requirements, but because these terms are used interchangeably in reference lists, i.e., ‘top skills,’ ‘top tools that are needed,’ and we want to be clear on what they are in this context. We believe project management requires a combination of all four—knowledge, skills, tools and techniques.
- Knowledge. My good friend Google provides pages and pages of what knowledge is, but my favorite one defines it as, “what is known in a particular field.” Knowledge is acquired through education. Most of us are doing assignments for specific industries, and because of that experience we have background knowledge of our industry, whether it’s healthcare, construction, information technology, green projects, aeronautical, etc.
- Skill. A skill is a particular ability or expertise arising from talent, training or even practice. The top skills required for project management require training and practice just like any sport or craft. Some of us have innate talents but we continue improving them with training and practice.
- Tools. Commonly we think of a tool as something tangible that we can use in our hands, so an appropriate definition is that it is a device used to carry out a particular function. Commonly used tools by PMs are software; something we access by the internet or our desktop, an Excel spreadsheet or Microsoft Word.
- Techniques. A way of carrying out a particular task is technique, such as methodologies, processes and frameworks that are required in project management.
These are the things that we apply to project activity to actually manage our projects more effectively and what project management really is all about.
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