What is project management?

This article is actually a chapter (partial) from our eBook: Project Management for the Accidental Project Manager. It is important to note that we wrote the book as story – hence the dialogue in the chapter below.

Chapter 6 from The Inheritance

“Good evening. You must be the Giant,” George says when he sees Qudss. “I didn’t know giants were so beautiful.”

“Thank you. That’s quite charming,” Qudss responds.

“Furat, are you really already married or do I still have a chance to steal Qudss from you?”

Ahmad steps in, embarrassed. “Sorry, Furat and Qudss. Please forgive my brother George. He often forgets his manners.”

“So what do you do, Ahmad and George?” Qudss asks.

“Ahmad is in accounting and I’m in human resources,”

George says. “How about you, Qudss?”

“I’m in project management.”

“What is that? Is that like the software people use in construction?” George asks. He isn’t familiar with the term.

“No, we don’t sell software.”


What is project management?

“Then what is project management?” Ahmad asks. “From what little we know about it from our colleagues, we get the impression it’s for construction. Most of them work in construction-related fields, and they keep talking about activities and schedules.”

Now Furat chimes in.“Project management is often misunderstood. Many people think it’s about software, others think it’s only for construction. In recent years, more and more people think it’s for information technology, what we call IT. Project management is really useful for all industries, and even for our personal lives. This is basically the concept of Awakening the Giant that I mentioned briefly yesterday.”

“Sounds good. So what is it?” George asks. interested

“It’s about managing projects!” Qudss says with a smile.

“Qudss, you’re saying the sort of thing I would usually say,” George answers with a smile. “Are you playing word games with me? I say What’s project management? and you say Managing projects!’ Forgive me, but you’ve told me nothing yet!” By now George is laughing.

“Managing projects is fun and serious at the same time. If I can define project management in two words, I’d say it’s a disciplined approach. If you give me more time, I can say more, but I must warn you, if I start talking about project management, what we call PM, you might not be able to shut me up.”

The twins smile and say in unison, “Go for it.”

“Okay, but remember, I warned you!”

“Yes, Madame, go ahead. Anyway, who would dare to mess with a giant?” George is getting comfortable with their new friends.

“We’ll start with the short version. Let me ask you both, do you have goals in life?”

“Of course!” the twins reply.

“I need to find a wife for Ahmad so he’ll leave me alone. He’s always attached to me, almost like a Siamese twin,” George jokes.

“Can we say that’s the goal?” Qudss asks.

“Let’s not discuss a wife for me, since it’s not a current goal,” Ahmad says. “How about establishing my own business?”

“Fine, Ahmad, that’s a good goal. Let’s define that as our project for now. Can we say establishing your business is a goal and consider it a project?”

“Why not?” says Ahmad.

“How are you going to achieve it?” Qudss asks.

“I haven’t thought about it. Save some money, I guess.”

“Is that it? Do you think money is all it takes?” Qudss is trying to get Ahmad to think before she answers him.

“Hey, Ahmad, I didn’t know you had money,” George cuts in.

“Okay, Qudss, I’m not sure. Like I said, I haven’t thought this one through yet,” Ahmad says, a bit defensively.

“Don’t worry, Ahmad. It’s no big deal and there’s no need to be defensive. You’re learning, and this is why we’re talking. For discussion purposes, you have a goal, and a goal equals a project. Okay?”


“The way we do this in project management is that you first define your goal clearly. It can’t be open-ended; it has to be specific and realistic. It can and should be challenging. You’ve probably heard that a goal must be SMART.”

“Is there a dumb goal, Furat?” George asks, pretending to ignore Qudss.

“I can’t say there are dumb goals. I don’t like that expression. But there are goals that aren’t SMART,” Furat responds. “SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Action Oriented, Realistic, and within a Time Frame.[1] Opening a business is not a goal. It’s not specific enough.”

Qudss took up the discussion again. “Furat is right. For your goal to be SMART, you have to be specific and include more considerations. Very early on, you need to define the type of business. Then can you measure what it will take to achieve the goal? I would think that once you define it well, then you can measure it. By the way, the SMART goal concept isn’t limited to project management; it’s also used in general management.”

Qudss looks at the twins to make sure they’re following her train of thought. “The A in SMART is for action oriented, meaning you can take actions to achieve the goal. You have the ability to make it happen; it’s not being driven by others.”

“The R and the T go together because a goal can be judged as being realistic when it’s linked to a time frame. For example, to say that you want to start a falafel sandwich shop within a week would not be a SMART goal because it’s not realistic to launch even such a small business in just a week. On the other hand, if you say you want to open the shop in six months or a year, then we might be getting toward a SMART goal.”

“This is interesting—go on,” Ahmad says.

“Now here’s the secret: once you define the SMART goal and decide you want to make it happen, you can do one of two things. You either wish for your goal, which means that it may or may not happen. That’s dreaming. The other possibility is that you can plan for it and actively pursue it. Planning is about the steps you must take to achieve your goal.”

“Sounds good so far. What’s next?” Ahmad says eagerly.

“Once we have a good plan, we start to implement it.”

“I’m with you—go on,” Ahmad responds.

“We all know that when one starts to implement a plan, things might not go according to plan.”

“I expected that. What do we do in that case? Come to think of it, why plan if things don’t go according to plan?”

“My motto is There’s no need to plan, just go with the flow!” says the spontaneous George.

Ahmad can’t resist saying “Right, brother—go with the flow and get stranded in the desert!”.

Qudss brings the conversation back on track. “Planning helps you get focused, and as you plan, you think about the alternatives. If we do a good plan, we also think about potential risks and plan for managing those risks. Planning will minimize uncertainty and enhance the chances of success. Furthermore, as we implement the plan, we have to keep our eyes on the goal, and as a result we might have to take corrective actions every once in a while when the situation changes.” .

“This is very educational,” Ahmad says.

“If you keep your eyes on the goal as you implement your plan, then there’s a good chance you’ll achieve your goal. When you do, you owe us a celebratory dinner!” Furat interjects.

“Thank you for this enlightening discussion,” Ahmad says.

“And I thought it was all about software,” George jokes.

Qudss summarizes what has been said. “I’ll leave you with this final thought: since we haven’t defined the word ‘project’ yet, let’s do it right away. Remember, a project must have a specific objective, or goal, and a fixed time frame for achieving it. A SMART goal is equivalent to a project. Establishing a business is a project, but once the business is up and running, the project is complete, and we shift from project management to business or operation management,”

“By the way, Ahmad, what business do you have in mind?” Furat asks.

“Nothing specific comes to mind right now, Furat. I just wanted to shift the project from a wife for me to something more businesslike,” Ahmad responds with a smile.

“Wow – the serious guy can joke,” George commented on his brother and they all laughed.

[1] Various management literature have different criteria for SMART. The one here is what the author prefers. Wikipedia shows many of these variations [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SMART_criteria ].


6 thoughts on “What is project management?

    1. Mounir Ajam Post author

      Dear Sir,
      Unless I am not aware of a new updates the construction supplement that you mentioned is at least 10 years old and is based on the 2000 edition of the PMBOK Guide.

  1. drpdg

    And Sana, project management starts well before there even is a project….. It starts with the business case and the strategic object the PRODUCT of the project is supposed to achieve or realize…..

    IMPO, we need less focus on better project management and more focus on better project SPONSORSHIP……

    Stop sending us “death march” projects- give us a realistic budget, time frame and resources and you will find any half way competent project manager will deliver….

    BUT, we are NOT “miracle workers” nor should we be perpetual “fire fighters”, which is more common than not in most of our organizations.

    Dr. PDG, Jakarta, Indonesia

  2. drpdg

    Hi Munir,
    The best place to start would be to look to R. Max Wideman’s “Comparative Glossary of Project Management Terms” http://www.maxwideman.com/pmglossary/PMG_P12.htm#Project Manager and you will see something like 14 different definitions. (And if you look at the definition for “project” you will find 20+ definitions)

    Having said that, as most of our clients are “English as Second Language” I try as much as possible to look to standard English Language dictionaries, such as Merriam Webster or Oxford to define terms, rather than rely on any of the “not for profit” professional organizations.

    For my PhD research, I restated the Merrian Webster Dictionary definitions of “Project” + “Management” to come up with an admittedly cumbersome but semantically accurate definition:

    “the administration supervision or executive function
    to plan, organize, coordinate, direct and control a proposed or planned
    undertaking to achieve a particular aim or objective within a specific time
    frame, with some reasonable expectation for success, through the skillful
    handling or use of limited or constrained resources and the successful
    organization, administration and controlling these affairs in a business-like

    Hope this helps guide or facilitate your book?

    Dr. PDG, Jakarta, Indonesia

    1. Mounir Ajam Post author

      Hi Sana – this is a high level view if what we call Project Management Thinking and the “ultimate scope” is the goal – the SMART Goal = project scope.


We welcome your opinion - supporting or challenging the topic