There exist a vast number of books, articles and certification programs on
They all agree more or less on the definition, that projects are one-time
endeavours, that have a unique objective — often formulated as scope and quality
targets — and which are usually constrained by budget, time and resources. By
the way, this holds true, whether or not the chosen project management
methodology is classical waterfall or agile.
Often projects are already complex enough by themselves but matters are not
seldom complicated even further by a number of stakeholders who all have a
significant (sometimes even conflicting) interest in the project success.
In this difficult context, project management is the skill, experience and art
of making the project successful despite all these constraints and
When situations are overly complex, it is important to understand what is the
essence of project management. This essence of project management is the anchor
point for every project manager and the thread that runs through the whole of
the project. Everything develops from there, both in terms of management but
also in terms of controlling and giving the necessary transparency to all the
So, what is the Essence of Project Management?
A project is a set of deliverables that build on each other. So the
deliverable is at the heart of the project.
Each deliverable needs a clear and unique owner otherwise it remains open who
puts the deliverable in place. Ownership does not mean that the person needs
to produce the deliverable all by him- or herself. The person is just the
responsible and can engage others.
Every deliverable needs a recipient — a person who takes over the deliverable
once it is delivered and builds on it. This person also needs to sign-off on
the quality of the deliverable received. If the quality is poor the
deliverable cannot be built upon.
Projects are constrained in time. This means that each deliverable also
inherits a time constraint. Therefore, is must not only be clear what is
delivered, but also by when.
All projects need to have an instrument that helps to steer them and that give
all the necessary information. Without such information a project is doomed to
fail. One simple cannot manage complex situations without structural and
reliable information. This information usually sits in a project status
report. As a bare minimum the report must report on the items above. This
means the report needs to show the status for each deliverable and the quality
evaluation once the deliverable has been delivered. It makes perfect sense, to
comment on all issues that show any form of criticality or deviation from the
So, if you take all of the above, then you have it. The Essence of Project
WHO | DELIVERS WHAT | TO WHOM | BY WHEN | STATUS | QUALITY | COMMENT.
This Essence of Project Management has the further advantage that it also
implements the Golden Rule of Project Management: Always focus on output.
Many project planning sheets or software products start from the input side by
naming TODOs. Instead, they should rather start from the end focus on
deliverables. Starting from the input side tries to push the project forward
rather then to pull the project from the end. Research from the areas of
production, process and (agile) project management have all more or less come to
the same conclusion, that pull processes have a much higher likelihood to
succeed than push processes.