Think it only stands for one thing? Think again!
As a young professional first starting out, I had only ever heard of the “P” in Project Management (PM) standing for “project.” Back then, I was assigned a project and my responsibility—in a nutshell—was to manage it. Fast forward ten years and “managing it” is a much more complex engagement than I could have ever imagined.
You see, the “P” in PM stands for so much more than what the word “project” implies, but that first begs the question: what is a project?
Per the Project Management Institute, the definition of a project is “a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.” A project is also characterized as a temporary effort taken on by an individual or group of individuals to create something new. While this definition explains what a project is, there is so much more to be said about how that something new is created and what it means for the individuals participating in the effort.
In reality, the “P” in PM wears many masks and sometimes stunt doubles (possibly in some cases stunt triples) throughout the duration of a project, representing other attributes that contribute to a project’s ultimate success.
But enough context—back to the many masks the “P” wears. Yes, the “P” most definitely stands for project, but it also encompasses three sub components that make up a project which are:
- The People
- The Process
- The Product (aka “something new”)
This trifecta makes up the synergy of a well executed project. Knowing how to balance each “P” can enable any Project Manager to be more well-rounded and successful.
The people involved in the completion of a project are at the heart of the trifecta—consider them the tip at the top of a triangle, while the remaining two “Ps” make up the base. The first thing to remember is that the project team is made up of a group of highly skilled, innovative, and creative individuals that have been appropriately paired to a new project based on these aforementioned skills.
The most critical part of a successful engagement with team members is to keep in mind that you are one, too. Being kind, empathetic, and complimentary goes a LONG way. Invest in the team you work with (both internally and externally including the client/stakeholders involved) and I promise you, they will invest back in you. Building this foundation from the onset of a project not only improves collaboration, it can also make it easier to have the “hard conversations” as they arise because you’ve already established mutual trust.
For anyone who is operating within an agile mindset, I know the word “process” may make you cringe given the first of the four values of The Agile Manifesto is “individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” Let me clarify. Process, in this case, takes on a different meaning than it did during my good ‘ol corporate America days when the steps to execute a project were predetermined and outlined verbatim by middle management for a group of project managers to follow explicitly.
In this context, process is meant to foster a conversation. Remember those highly skilled people you are working with? Fostering an open dialogue around what steps to put in place can ensure a project is executed in a manner that is not only logical but efficient. A self-organized team can ensure all team members feel a sense of ownership in the development of an effective overall process. Today, process should be a fluid, collaborative, and iterative process.
The last and, for me, the most challenging mask the “P” in PM wears is focused on the unique product, service, or result that is being developed.
While the project team may be well-versed in the technicalities of executing a new idea, you may—like me—find yourself starting new projects surrounded by a cloud of indecipherable jargon trying to string information together so it makes sense. While this has been the norm for me on most new project assignments, I highly encourage you to ask questions early and ask them often. After all, knowledge is power, right?! By asking questions, you will collect invaluable product knowledge that you can apply to future new projects. With time—and many questions—you’ll find this last “P” garners a decent amount of street cred with teams. Be patient and soak it all in!
All this to say that it takes time to harness the positive power of the ubiquitous “P.” As a Project Manager, sometimes your role is more focused on people management, while other times it is more focused on process or even product management. I think you’ll find that, in most cases, its a mixture of all three. Throughout my career, I’ve experienced missteps as I learned about each of these areas of PM and how to balance them for greater success.
While learning to lean on these three “Ps” can prove to be quite tricky, always remember to be kind to yourself and view any flubs as growth opportunities. If you don’t learn as you grow, you risk the potential of continually facing the same challenges without the tools to overcome them.
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