There is a huge difference between Project Management and just plain Management, and yet I often see people use the terms almost interchangeably. Maybe it’s because the people who are doing the conflating aren’t trained in Project Management, and therefore aren’t clear on the difference. Maybe it’s because Project Management is a relatively new (albeit growing) field. Or maybe because so many of the skills required to be a successful Project Manager often overlap with skills required to be a good Manager. The problem with conflating the terms is that while they may use the same skills from the same toolbox, the aims and goals of the two are completely different.
Let’s tackle the most obvious difference if you are just looking at the two terms: The word Project.
A Project is a temporary endeavor, with a definite beginning and end, which creates a unique product, service or result.
The key thing to remember about a project is that it is temporary in nature. It is not something that is ongoing. This is a key distinction between Project Management and Management. Normal Management is not meant to be a temporary thing…can you imagine if it was? The business world would look much different if the managers of the business saw what they were doing as just a temporary thing.
Projects also create unique things, which often follows one of the four following modes:
– Moving something
– Adding something
– Changing something
– Deleting something
Often, people will assume that if you are adding a new feature to something, say a new page to a software system, that you are working on a project. But remember that projects are temporary in nature, and a software system is not generally seen this way. Performing regular maintenance to a software system is normally not considered a project. Designing a new software system is a project, because it has a definite beginning and end and creates a unique product. But regular maintenance? That is more in the realm of Management.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Management as:
The act or skill of controlling and making decisions about a business, department, sports team, etc. or the act or process of deciding how to use something.
Notice that there isn’t a timeline attached to this definition. It doesn’t have a definite end point. It also doesn’t have a goal in mind; it doesn’t produce anything in and of itself. That isn’t to say that Management isn’t an activity that requires skill…you don’t have to look too far in today’s world to see examples of what happens when managers lack the skills to manage their businesses. Management is just focused more around the processes involved in making the decisions in a business. The decisions themselves are irrelevant for the definition. A good decision or a bad decision is still a decision, and therefore is Management. Bad decisions are a problem, but they can be addressed by others in the business to help blunt the potential damage.
Contrast this with Project Management, whose explicit goal is to advance a project to a definite end and create a unique product, service or result. When this is your goal, the decisions that are made are absolutely vital to the Management of the Project. Bad decisions delay the end of your project, or result in poor quality products, services or results. In this case, your goal is not achieved, therefore your project is not successful.
Why Does It Matter?
Because of the different goals of Management vs. Project Management, the skills needed are used differently. It is not uncommon for Managers to be expected to complete projects, but unless they are trained in Project Management skills they are almost doomed to failure. Remember, Project Management has the goal of completing the project…that is the singular focus. This means that the Project can be monitored, adjusted and measured as needed to ensure that it is brought to a successful conclusion within the constraints present. But for the Manager, who has additional responsibilities and does not have the freedom to focus singularly on one project, it’s easy to let things slide. The project gets moved to the back burner.
That is how you get The Never-Ending Project…projects that never get completed because they are constantly changing. Goals are constantly being adjusted. Staff become frustrated because the work they did six months ago is now being undone. The cost of the project, if it is ever scrutinized, rises astronomically. Because the project is never completed, results cannot be measured and you will never know whether the project was successful or not…not to mention you can effectively consider all of the staff hours put into it as wasted time.
Ever worked in a place that felt directionless? Like there was no Captain of the Ship? That’s a business without effective Project Management. If a business is to be managed successfully, it must include Project Managers. They focus the engines and move the business forward if you let them. If not, you may be able to get the engines to move, but it will be in different directions and the business will slowly tear itself apart.