The  development of a new face cream, the construction of a bridge, rescue efforts after an earthquake, or expanding a business into a different  country—these are all examples of projects. Unlike usual business operations and tasks, a project has a limited and defined timeframe, scope, and resources for its completion. Project management is the application of specialized knowledge, tools and skills to a designated project in order to meet the defined objectives - and ideally, do all of that with money to spare.

This article looks at the objectives and definitions of project management, as well as the  key skills and traits needed to become a professional in this field. If  you’re keen to find out more about how you can build a career out of  successfully managing business, government or social projects, then read on.

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The Key Objectives of a Project Manager

The main objective of project management is to develop and manage a project that meets the goals of the client. For a project to be delivered on time and within the agreed budget, expert management is crucial.

The  major challenge in project management is to deliver quality results and accomplish all the goals within the given time, budget, and scope  constraints. When you're dealing with projects that could take months to complete and cost thousands (even millions) of dollars, that's no small feat.  

A project team is often comprised of people from across organizations, and sometimes across countries. In some cases, the project might also include advising the client on more feasible objectives or project structure. On clear establishment of the client’s objectives, it’s then necessary to ensure that these objectives guide all decision-making processes involved in the project.

Project Management Vs Program Management

To better understand what project management is and isn’t, it’s useful to look at the difference between project management and program management. The two terms are sometimes used interchangeably within a business, but there are clear distinctions to be made.  

A project is structured to develop a specific deliverable within given constraints, whereas programs are generally a series of different but related projects to collectively deliver profit or other benefits to a company. Program management encompasses charting out and outlining a list of related projects that have to be completed to accomplish one major goal. A program manager is  expected to formulate the objectives and goals of the program and its  probable impact on the business. They need to be capable of organizing  projects, developing strategies and implementing them appropriately.

Project management is the management of an individual project within a program.  The project manager is tasked with the timely delivery of results while  staying within the scope and budget constraint. A company will often employ an independent contractor to take care of a project. For example, a business looking to establish a shopping complex can easily hire a contractor for the building’s construction. However, it’s almost impossible to hire a third-party independent contractor for program management. The program manager must be an integral part of the organization.  While  the main goal of program management is to reap maximum benefits for  the company, project management focuses on delivering concrete results.

To summarize:

Projects look to deliver a service or product to meet the demands and expectations of stakeholders, with minimal unexpected or unwarranted changes. Efficiency is a key component of project management.

Programs involve delivering profits to the company in line with its aims and objectives. The primary element of program management is delivering value, working in cooperation with other facets of the organization.  

Careers in Project Management  

Two decades ago, businesses rarely bothered with a dedicated project management team. Supervisors or managers would lead their respective teams and manage day-to-day operations, ensuring that everything within their  departments ran smoothly.

It wasn’t until the end of the last  decade that businesses started pondering the necessity of a dedicated  person to manage projects from initiation to delivery. That  position, with time, evolved into something that we know today as a ‘project manager’.

As more and more businesses began to realize the value of project managers, demand for professionals specializing in this capability began to grow. Fast forward to now, and project managers remain in hot demand. The Project Management Institute predicts demand to grow by 33% by 2027, creating over 22 million new jobs.

Project managers are important contributors to productivity, to the  point where talent shortages in the profession now represent a  significant risk to the global economy.

Project Management Salaries

If you're considering a career in project management, you’ll be happy to hear that the project manager's salary can be very high.

According to the PMI, project management-oriented professionals in  projectized industries earn up to 82% more than non-project-oriented  employees. Among all the sectors analyzed in the report, the  healthcare sector noticed the biggest increase in project-related roles, with 17% growth. Below is a list of some of the top industries employing project managers, along with the average salaries on offer.

What Does a Project Manager Do?

What a project manager does on a daily basis is both complex and important. Mainly, they ensure the timely delivery of products or services, and that entails many different skills.

They play a key role in managing expectations from all stakeholders and controlling all correspondence between the client and the project management team. When unforeseen incidents arise, or the goals of the project suddenly shift,  it’s the project manager who renegotiates expectations and timeframes to ensure the project remains on track for successful completion.

A common stumbling block encountered in projects is known as ‘scope creep’. Scope creep refers to the tendency for project objectives to expand as the project proceeds. It’s up to efficient project managers to ensure that scope creep doesn’t disrupt the course of a project or result in missed deadlines.  

How to Become a Project Manager

If you want to become a professional project manager, you’ll be expected to have the right mix of qualifications, soft skills and practical experience. In addition to specific hard skills like project management software and Gantt charts, you'll also need to understand general business operations. Coding knowledge isn’t a requirement, but some web development know-how never hurts: the ability to guide developers in detail could be a valuable asset.

To be a successful project manager, it's also essential to have the right soft  skills. Good  communication skills and leadership qualities are essential.

Life as a project manager comes with many challenges, and tackling them will require you to think strategically, and also be analytical, adaptable, and accountable. You'll need to be decisive, persistent, and resilient.

Below is a longer list of specific qualities you might see in a project management job description:

If you're trying to leverage your previous professional experience, you're in luck. Many successful project managers have previously worked as accountants, designers, software developers, or other types of management roles. Whichever industry you're in, you should have a keen eye for detail and ample knowledge to draw on as you identify areas for improvement and recommend solutions.

Project Management Degrees and Certifications

Though a bachelor’s degree in business management is preferred, a bachelor’s degree in any field will be a good start, depending upon the industry you want to pursue. There are also many online project management certification programs that can give you a boost in the right direction. Project Management Professional (PMP) certification from Project Management Institute is one popular choice.

Learn Project Management with Thinkful

Our Technical Project Management course equips you with the necessary knowledge and skills for a successful project management career. You’ll learn about various features of project planning and development  processes such as budgeting, resource allocation, scheduling, and  troubleshooting. The program also covers the soft skills required to  make it as a successful project manager, like problem solving and  interpersonal skills. The last module of the program covers the software  and tools required to be a successful technical project manager.  

The project management course is offered in a flexible, part-time format that works with any schedule. You’ll work with a personal mentor who can help you break into the industry. Tuition payment options include upfront, monthly, and loan options.

Hopefully this is the start of a long, fulfilling career in project management. And we're here to guide you every step of the way.

Launch Your Project Management Career

An online project management course aimed at helping you launch a career. One-on-one mentorship, professional guidance, and a robust community network are on hand to help you succeed in Project Management.

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