What does the term "project management" really mean? Project management describes the work required to start a project and the processes for controlling and managing the project once it starts. It also includes the work necessary to close the project after the solution is completed.
If there are problems on a project, you can use project management processes and techniques to respond to them. But we can take this a step further. Project managers that know how to proactively apply sound project management techniques generally do not have as many problems to begin with.
Here are some tools in your project management "toolkit":
- Understand what you're doing before you start. Many projects experience problems because there's a gap between what the client expects and what the project team delivers. These project teams typically look back and say "we should have spent more time planning." If you apply good project management techniques, you will not start the project without understanding the objectives, deliverables, scope, risks, assumptions, project organization, etc. You will also have a decent estimate (+/- 10%) of the project effort, cost, and duration. Not only that, but you will validate that the sponsor agrees with you by having him or her sign the Project Definition document.
- Manage change. Many project managers have difficulty managing scope. Project management shows you how to define scope to begin with and then how to proactively manage the scope. Scope change management does not mean that you tell the client "no." It means that you have a process in place to allow the sponsor to make the decisions based on the business value of the change and the impact to the project.
- Resolve problems more quickly. Some teams spend too much time and energy dealing with problems because they don't know how to resolve the problems to begin with. Having a proactive issues management process helps ensure that problems are resolved as quickly as possible.
- Manage future risks before the problems occur. Project management processes give you guidance on how to identify and manage risks. Risk management will result in potential problems being identified and managed before the problems actually occur.
- Manage expectations more effectively. Many problems on a project can be avoided with proactive communication. Your project management process will include methods for formal and informal communication, which will result in fewer surprises.
- Build a higher quality product the first time. Quality management processes help the team understand the needs of the customer in terms of quality. Once those needs are defined, the team can implement quality control and quality assurance techniques to meet the customer expectations.
There are other benefits to using proactive project management processes as well. You use your project management toolkit in a proactive and preventative manner to continually keep the project machine in good working order. However, when something unexpected occurs, you should always have a project management tool that you can pull out to help you deal with it. Using good project management processes does not guarantee success. However, you will find that you always have one or more tools that you can apply to respond to all situations.