Project Management Concepts – Why Do We Manage Projects?

I’ve been giving some thought recently as to what lies behind the work we do as project managers. Too often we get caught up in the tools and techniques, the how of what we do, without looking at the concepts and ideas behind it, the why of what we do.

Today, I want to look at something basic: Why do we manage projects?  What’s the reason for doing this?

The project management concept I am looking at today is: Project management is about making the project environment as stable as possible. What is possible varies.

Let’s explore what I mean by this. As we know, a business needs to embrace some change to make sure it continues to compete in its market, to stay relevant to its customers. But businesses in general try to be stable – to provide certainty to shareholders and staff.

These two competing demands come to a head in projects. Projects bring change into the business, which means they could be seen as threats to the business stability. Uncontrolled change has a name – chaos. So change can only be brought into a business in a controlled manner.

And this is what project management is about. Projects are about change, so the management of that change is an attempt to control it. It is an attempt to provide a stable environment within which change can happen. That stable environment protects the business from uncontrolled change, while providing a space for change to occur.

But, of course, how stable the environment can be depends on the specifics of the project. For example, a project to build a new office building needs a very stable environment indeed – an attempt to change the design after work has begun on construction is likely to be impossible, or exceedingly costly.

Alternatively, software projects can cope with a much less stable environment – yes, work may need to be done to ensure earlier completed sections are adapted to the new design, but this is much more possible, and cheaper, than with a physical product.

We can see, then that “as stable as possible” can vary widely. This is a natural consequence of the particular change being brought about through a project.

This gives us, then, one of our project management concepts: Project management is about making the project environment as stable as possible. What is possible varies.