The Fundamentals of Project Management

Published: 2009-03-05
Last updated: 2022-04-01

Here, we introduce the fundamentals of project management. We present definitions of the most important terms and the project life cycle. From this and from observing real project life, we draw some basic consequences that form a general project management principle.

This page marks the first page of your learning path "traditional project management".

What is a project?

Across this website, we use the following definition of the term "project":

A project is an endeavor that is unique in

  • Scope: the endeavor will create a precisely specified product consisting of deliverables and services

  • Schedule: there are clearly defined beginning and end dates

  • Budget: the budget for creating those deliverables and services is limited.

In the sub-section "What Is a Project?", we go a little bit deeper into the details of this definition and give an example.

We call the combination of scope, schedule, and budget the triple constraint of project management because we cannot change one of the three cornerstones without changing the other two.

Triple Constraint of Project ManagementTriple Constraint of Project Management

What is project management?

Definition of project management: Project management is the management of the triple constraint to the satisfaction of the stakeholders of the project. We consider project management being a process that we describe in more detail in PM Process.

Project life cycle

Let's take an example, a typical construction project. We have a customer who wants to create a certain building and a supplier who will construct that building. Now, we can list the natural flow of major project activities as follows, divided into customer activities and supplier activities.

Project life cycle: customer perspective vs. supplier perspectiveProject life cycle: customer perspective vs. supplier perspective

The "project life cycle" describes the flow of activities, for both, the customer and the supplier, including all their interactions. Following the project life cycle, and inserting major "milestones" into the flow, we recognize the project management life cycle  with its four major phases:

project definition, project planning, project implementation, and project closure.

We consider projects with such a linear sequence of the four phases "traditional projects". To simplify our terminology for traditional projects, let us agree to call the sequence of the four phases, definition, planning, implementation, and closure the "project management process".

Project Management ProcessProject Management Process

For the most important aspects of other project life cycle views, please refer to sub-sections Project Management Models and Managing IT Projects.

Ideal vs. real

We go through more detailed descriptions of these four phases on separate pages:

In this section, fundamentals of project management, we would like to emphasize some aspects of the project cost. During the first two phases, we create the so-called accumulative project cost plan.

It could look like this:

Accumulated Project Cost PlanAccumulated Project Cost Plan

Under ideal conditions, we would expect the actual accumulated project cost to be virtually the same as planned in the definition and planning phase. We assume that we could implement the project plan without changes or additional work being necessary.

But the reality of project implementation is different. We are not able to plan for every eventuality, sometimes things go wrong we never could think of, let alone plan for. Additionally, our resources for project planning are usually limited, so we more or less consciously remain a little vague with parts of our project plan until signing any contract.

The actual accumulated cost typically looks like the red line:

Accumulated Project Cost Plan: Actual vs. RealAccumulated Project Cost Plan: Actual vs. Real

This uncertainty appears to be the case for all projects. Therefore, we call it the principle of uncertainty in project management.

One of the dire consequences is that red line, showing what we also know from experience:

We tend to spend less in the definition and planning phase but have to pay multiple of those savings in the implementation and closure phase, and thus, exceed the planned schedule and budget, or fall short of the scope or quality of project results.

What are the reasons for this phenomenon?

We know already the overall reason: the principle of uncertainty in project management.

Experience with having managed many projects, from small to medium, to large, show us more tangible reasons in the following areas:

  • Poor planning results because those who do the planning (usually the sales team) are not experienced in managing project implementation and closure.

  • Insufficient handover from the sales team to the implementation team, and insufficient support by experienced project managers towards the sales team.

  • During the project definition and planning phase, we put more emphasis on customer relationship management, negotiating, and winning the contract, while cutting short on diligent planning and carefully analyzing the possibilities of future changes during the implementation and closure phase.

  • There seems to be a lack of risk management and a lack of contract management in the early project stages.

  • Lack of stakeholder management throughout the project life cycle.

  • Project goals are not clear and change too often.

  • Poor soft skills in project teams.

On this website, I propose kind of a master plan that helps to minimize extra work and additional cost in the implementation and closure phase, and thus, improve your project results.

In the sub-section Project Management Basics, I present pre-requisites for this website.

35+ templates, tools, and checklists in one set

To save you time in your daily work as a project manager, I packaged more than 35 project management templates, tools, and checklists into one zip file.

  • You un-zip it, and you get all items in formats you can edit to your requirements.
  • They strictly contain only standard functionality and no macros or other code.
  • You are allowed to use your logo.
Templates & Checklists for Implementation and Closure Phase
for only
or click here for more info.

Traditional PM
Learning Path Navigation

Related topics

  • Managing IT Projects

    In this sub-section, we summarize the most important aspects of managing IT projects.

  • Project Management Models

    In this sub-section, we present the basic ideas of different project management models.

  • Project Management Basics

    In this sub-section, we summarize some essential thoughts as our project management basics.

  • Triple Constraint

    In this sub-section, we give a brief introduction into the basics of the triple constraint of project management.

  • What Is a Project

    In this sub-section, we give a few more details on basic definitions: what is a project? – what is project management?

Return from Fundamentals of Project Management to Home Page

Your Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.
Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.