The Nature of Project Management

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While the PMBOK™ provides an overview of project management for those seeking PMI certification, another way to characterize the important aspects of project management is (Fairley 2009):

  • Planning and Estimating
  • Measuring and Controlling
  • Leading and Directing
  • Managing Risk


Planning a project involves providing answers to the questions: who, what, where, when, and why.

  • Who: addresses staffing issues (competencies, numbers of staff, communication and coordination)
  • What: addresses the scope of activities
  • Where: addresses issues of locale (local, geographically distributed)
  • When: addresses scheduling issues
  • Why: addresses rationale for conducting a project

Guidance for developing project plans can be found in (INCOSE 2011), (NASA 2007), and (ISO/IEC/IEEE 2009). It is often observed that communication and coordination among stakeholders during project planning are equally important, and sometimes more important than the documented plan that is produced.


Estimation is an important element of planning. An estimate is a projection from past to future, adjusted to account for differences between past and future. Estimation techniques include analogy, rule of thumb, expert judgment, and use of parametric models such as COCOMO for software projects and COSYSMO for systems projects (COCOMO 2000, COSYSMO 2008).

Systems engineering contributes to project estimation efforts by ensuring that:

  • the overall system life cycle is understood
  • dependencies on other systems and organizations are identified
  • the logical dependencies during development are identified
  • resources and key skills are identified and planned

Additionally, the high-level system architecture and risk assessment provide the basis for the work breakdown structure and the organizational breakdown structure.

Measuring and Controlling

Measuring and controlling are the key elements of executing a project. Measurement includes collecting measures for work products and work processes. For example, determining the level of coverage of requirements in a design specification can be assessed by reviews, analysis, prototyping, and traceability. Effort and schedule expended on the work processes can be measured and compared to estimates; earned value tracking can be used for this purpose. Controlling is concerned with analyzing measurement data and implementing corrective actions when actual status does not align with planned status.

Systems engineers may be responsible for managing all technical aspects of project execution, or they may serve as staff support for the project manager or project management office. Organizational relationships between systems engineers and project managers are presented in Organizing Teams to Perform Systems Engineering. Other organizational considerations for the relationships between systems engineering and project management are covered in the Enabling Systems Engineering knowledge area.

Leading and Directing

Leading and directing involves communication and coordination among all project stakeholders, both internal and external to a project.

Managing Risk

Systems engineering projects are, by nature, high-risk endeavors; in most cases, projects face unknown factors that must be handled as a project evolves. Risk Management is concerned with identifying and mitigating potential problems before they become real problems.


Works Cited

Boehm, B., C. Abts., A.W. Brown, S. Chulani, B.K. Clark, E. Horowitz, R. Madachy, D. Reifer, and B. Steece. 2000. Software Cost Estimation with COCOMO II. Upper Saddle River, NJ, USA: Prentice Hall.

Valerdi, R. The Constructive Systems Engineering Cost Model (COSYSMO): Quantifying the Costs of Systems Engineering Effort. Saarbrucken, Germany: VDM Verlag.

Fairley, R.E. 2009. Managing and Leading Software Projects. Hoboken NJ, USA: John Wiley & Sons.

INCOSE. 2011. INCOSE Systems Engineering Handbook: A Guide for System Life Cycle Processes and Activities, version 3.2.1. San Diego, CA, USA: International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE), INCOSE-TP-2003-002-03.2.1.

ISO/IEC/IEEE. 2009. Systems and Software Engineering - Life Cycle Processes - Project Management. Geneva, Switzerland: International Organization for Standardization (ISO)/International Electronical Commission (IEC)/Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), ISO/IEC/IEEE 16326:2009(E).

Primary References

Fairley, R.E. 2009. Managing and Leading Software Projects. Hoboken, NJ, USA: John Wiley & Sons.

PMI. 2008. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, 4th ed. Newtown Square, PA, USA: Project Management Institute (PMI).

Additional References

Blanchard, B. 2008. System Engineering Management. Hoboken, NJ, USA: John Wiley & Sons.

Martin, J. 1997. Systems Engineering Guidebook: A Process for Developing Systems and Products. London: Taylor and Francis Group CRC-Press, LLC.

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