Byline: Adelia Hallett
Project management involves planning and organising the use of resources in order to meet an agreed outcome within time and on budget. It's an approach that's long been used in sectors like construction and information technology, and many managers from other sectors are discovering the benefits of applying project management principles to their organisations.
We tend to think of a project as massive and involving building something - like a power station or a motorway. But project managers argue that project management can benefit almost any activity in any sized business or organisation. One challenges me to think about the way in which a magazine is produced. He's right.
The editor is the project manager, responsible for delivering a magazine you will want to read, in time to hit the newsstands and without blowing the budget. And she can't just repeat the last issue; she's required to create an entirely new magazine. She broke the job down into a series of smaller tasks and assigned them to members of her team. She also drew in resources from outside to supplement her staff.
I am one of those outsiders, a freelance journalist who moves from project to project. For this job - writing about project management - she gave me a deadline, a brief and we agreed a fee. I broke my project down into chunks - research project management, identify interviewees, draw up a structure, carry out interviews, write story - and approached each like a mini project.
Projects are notorious for not running smoothly, and this one was no exception. One of the people I wanted to interview was overseas, another was in hospital and a third was impossible to get hold of. Other jobs came in and demanded a share of my time. Deadlines got pushed and the shape of the story changed, but the fact you're reading this means we completed our project and are now on to the next one.
Of course, people have always managed projects. From building the great pyramids of Egypt to setting up the factories of the Industrial Revolution, somebody had to make decisions about what would happen when, and whether they could afford it.
But it was war that really got us project-focused. The mobilisation of huge armies for the First and Second World Wars, coupled with the massive production of advanced weapons and machinery and the need to produce food to feed the armies, required new organisational structures which forced the development of new practices.
The Manhatten Project (to develop the world's first nuclear weapon) was one of the first examples of modern project management; the management of the project was separated from the technical leadership.
And in the 1950s, the PERT (Programme Evaluation and Review Technique) was developed to help the United States build missiles faster than the Soviet Union was doing.
Project management became recognised as a discrete discipline in the 1970s, with the establishment of the International Project Management Association (IPMA) in Europe and the Project Management Institute (PMI) in the United States.
Concepts like Total Quality Management (TQM) and Critical Path Method (CPM) flourished in sectors such as construction, and became buzzwords in others. But it is only in the past 10 years that the idea that project management can and should be applied to almost everything has really taken hold.
Even so, says Wellington-based project manager Iain Fraser, a former director of PMI and managing director of management consultants Project Plus, many people still think that project managers wear hard hats and steel-capped boots.
"Construction is still important, but project management itself is expanding to all sectors and all things," he said. Fraser has no hesitation in saying that project management can and should be applied everywhere.
"Any business or organisation looking to increase its market share, to improve its efficiency ahead of the competition, or to push forward in an effective and efficient way should be embracing project management. …