How does project management differ from management?

As you read about the characteristics of projects and project management, you may be thinking how is ‘project management’ different from ‘management’?

The APM summarise this difference quite neatly:

A key factor that distinguishes project management from just ‘management’ is that it has this final deliverable and a finite timespan, unlike management, which is an ongoing process. Because of this, a project professional needs a wide range of skills; often technical skills, and certainly people management skills and good business awareness.

(APM 2019)

This distinction is further explored by Meredith, Shafer and Mantel (2016: 5) and summarised in the table below:

Dimension Project management General management
Type of work activity Unique Routine
Management approach Ability to adapt to change Manage by exception
Planning Critical Important
Budgeting Start from scratch,
multiple budgeting periods
Modify budget from previous budget period
Sequence of activities Must be determined Often predetermined
Location of work Crosses organisational units Within an organisational unit
Reporting relationships Informal Well defined

In terms of the type of work activity, project management is carried out for a unique project or task, whereas management is done by managers to perform the routine tasks in their daily operations.

Planning plays a very important role in both project management and general management, but is critical in the case of project management. This is because project management is for a particular venture in which the sequence of activities is crucial for the overall project’s success, and any delay in those activities may cause delay in the project deliverables. This contrasts to management, where similar routine tasks are repeated over the years, and activities are usually predetermined.

Project management usually spans more than one financial period. It also requires budgeting for the entire project from scratch, with each cost element carefully calculated to keep the cost of the project within planned and approved limits. In contrast, management has a financial budget for each financial year.

Project management teams comprise members from different departments who may interact with different organisations for the completion of their project, whereas management usually covers the management role in one particular organisation. The nature of communication and reporting is very informal, leading to informal relationships between members in the project management team, whereas management roles are usually formal and well defined in a hierarchical manner.

Your experience so far

Most people can identify projects that they have managed either personally or professionally, for example a project at work or arranging a party for friends.

Consider this example of a project outside of work:

Kathryn got an extension built on her house. In order to save some money, she project managed the construction. Although she did not get paid, she gained some useful experience about managing different tradespeople. Here’s a quick summary of that project:

Project activity: building an extension on her home.

Project type: unpaid, not part of her job role.

Experience gained: how to ensure that different tradespeople (eg electricians and plumbers) were on site at the right time, and would work together cooperatively when they were on site at the same time.

Your task

To get an idea of the breadth and range of different projects we manage, we encourage you to share your experiences with other learners on the course, giving examples of projects you have managed so far. Try to structure your response the same way as the example above, describing the:

  • Project activity
  • Project type
  • Experience gained

Post your summary in the comments and read about the different projects your fellow learners have experienced.


References

Association for Project Management (2019) What is Project Management [online] available from https://www.apm.org.uk/resources/what-is-project-management/ [25 July 2019]

Meredith J. R., Shafer, S. M., and Mantel, J. R. (2016) Project Management in Practice. 6th edn. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley

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This article is from the free online course:

Project Initiation

Coventry University