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Project Management Basics

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

Want to know a bit more about project management? What is it? What do you need to know? What are these different approaches people talk about? This is a short simple guide to those questions for people wanting to learn more either because you are considering a career change or want to know more about project management for your current role.


Firstly, a warning. I’m going to crudely simplify some explanations here as this is intended for people for whom project management is a new topic. I appreciate there is a lot more detail, nuance and complexity involved and this guide won’t cover that. It is just a basic overview to share some of the main concepts.


What is project management?

People often use project management to mean two different areas of work, project management and change management; which are often blurred together.


Project management – an organised approach to developing a project and identifying the tasks required to achieve a project and allocating and monitoring these tasks as well as corresponding areas such as risks and dependencies.

Change management – engaging with people to achieve the change required. This will include communication and training about the change taking place, but also more importantly getting input and feedback during the development and implementation of change


Project management and change management require two very different skill sets, some people are amazing at both, other people only have an interest and /or skills in one. There is increased recognition of these as distinct roles, so if you are considering a career in this area then there are more opportunities to specialise in one of these if you wish.


What do you need to know?

Projects are set up to change different things, the big three changes are often seen as: system (computer system e.g. database), process, or people (such as a change of culture or a restructure). They can happen in any type of organisation, in all sectors.


Some project/change managers choose to be specialists and specialise in a particular area, for example change of a particular finance system in the charity sector. Generally, these project managers are great in those areas as they will have the knowledge of implementing the same project in the past and often have more relevant technical knowledge. Other project/change managers work across different types of change (systems/process/people), in different industries and are described as generalists. If you are interested in a career in project and change management then you can choose whether you take a specialist or generalist approach. As with many things there is spectrum in-between and you don’t have to sit at either extreme.


What are the different project management approaches?

There are also many different project management methodologies. There are two commonly used approaches:


Waterfall (most well-known version is PRINCE2) – this is where you plan all the stages of the project, as well as the tasks for each stage, from the start and then monitor progress against this plan

Agile – this is where you plan the project activity in shorter cycles called sprints, and there will be more evolution of project activity depending on outcomes of previous sprints


You can methodically follow the approach of either of these, or you can use a more flexible application of each approach. You could even apply an amalgamation of these, for example plan the whole project at a high level (waterfall) but the detail in shorter cycles (agile). What is right to do will depend on the project and the organisation culture and part of the skills of project management is deciding on the right approach in that situation.



I hope that’s a helpful overview in the basics of project management. I have also written a number of other guides in subjects including the change curve, the right level of engagement and many others.

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