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10.1 Project Management Basics

Learning Objective

  1. The objective of this section is to achieve a basic understanding of the role of a project manager in the lifecycle of a GIS project.

Project management is a fairly recent professional endeavor that is growing rapidly to keep pace with the increasingly complex job market. Some readers may equate management with the posting of clichéd artwork that lines the walls of corporate headquarters across the nation (Figure 10.1). These posters often depict a multitude of parachuters falling arm-in-arm while forming some odd geometric shape, under which the poster is titled “Teamwork.” Another is a beautiful photo of a landscape titled, “Motivation.” Clearly, any job that is easy enough that its workers can be motivated by a pretty picture is a job that will either soon be done by computers or shipped overseas. In reality, proper project management is a complex task that requires a broad knowledge base and a variety of skills.

Figure 10.1

Management is more than posting vapid, buzzword-laden artwork such as this in the office place.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) Standards Committee describes project management as “the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities in order to meet or exceed stakeholder needs and expectations.” To assist in the understanding and implementation of project management, PMI has written a book devoted to this subject titled, “A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge,” also known as the PMBOK Guide (PMI 2008). This section guides the reader through the basic tenets of this text.

The primary stakeholders in a given projectA temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service as a means of achieving an organizational goal. include the project managerAn employee with the responsibility of planning, executing, and closing a given project., project team, sponsor/clientThe sponsor/client hires the project manager and his or her project team to provide some services and/or products., and customer/end-userThe customer/end-user, which may or may not be the sponsor/client, is the person or people who will use the service or product.. As project manager, you will be required to identify and solve potential problems, issues, and questions as they arise. Although much of this section is applicable to the majority of information technology (IT) projects, GIS projects are particularly challenging due to the large storage, integration, and performance requirements associated with this particular field. GIS projects, therefore, tend to have elevated levels of risk compared to standard IT projects.

Project management is an integrative effort whereby all of the project’s pieces must be aligned properly for timely completion of the work. Failure anywhere along the project timeline will result in delay, or outright failure, of the project goals. To accomplish this daunting task, five process groupsProcess groups outline and organize a multitude of individual activities and actions that project managers must employ to achieve the overall goals of the project. and nine project management knowledge areasProject management knowledge areas represent those subject areas that managers must be cognizant of to ensure that all the goals of the project will be met. have been developed to meet project objectives. These process groups and knowledge areas are described in this section.

PMBOK Process Groups

The five project management process groups presented here are described separately, but realize that there is typically a large degree of overlap among each of them.

Initiation, the first process group, defines and authorizes a particular project or project phase. This is the point at which the scope, available resources, deliverables, schedule, and goals are decided. Initiation is typically out of the hands of the project management team and, as such, requires a high-level sponsor/client to approve a given course of action. This approval comes to the project manager in the form of a project charter that provides the authority to utilize organizational resources to address the issues at hand.

The planning process group determines how a newly initiated project phase will be carried out. It focuses on defining the project scope, gathering information, reviewing available resources, identifying and analyzing potential risks, developing a management plan, and estimating timetables and costs. As such, all stakeholders should be involved in the planning process group to ensure comprehensive feedback. The planning process is also iterative, meaning that each planning step may positively or negatively affect previous decisions. If changes need to be made during these iterations, the project manager must revisit the plan components and update those now-obsolete activities. This iterative methodology is referred to as “rolling wave planning.”

The executing process group describes those processes employed to complete the work outlined in the planning process group. Common activities performed during this process group include directing project execution, acquiring and developing the project team, performing quality assurance, and distributing information to the stakeholders. The executing process group, like the planning process group, is often iterative due to fluctuations in project specifics (e.g., timelines, productivity, unanticipated risk) and therefore may require reevaluation throughout the lifecycle of the project.

The monitoring and controlling process group is used to observe the project, identify potential problems, and correct those problems. These processes run concurrently with all of the other process groups and therefore span the entire project lifecycle. This process group examines all proposed changes to the project and approves only those that do not alter the overall, stated goals of the project. Some of the specific activities and actions monitored and controlled by this process group include the project scope, schedule, cost, output quality, reports, risk, and stakeholder interactions.

Finally, the closing process group essentially terminates all of the actions and activities undertaken during the four previous process groups. This process group includes handing off all pertinent deliverables to the proper recipients and the formal completion of all contracts with the sponsor/client. This process group is also important to signal the sponsor/client that no more charges will be made, and they can now reassign the project staff and organizational resources as needed.

PMBOK Project Management Knowledge Areas

Each of the five aforementioned process groups is available for use with nine different knowledge areas. These knowledge areas comprise those subjects that project managers must be familiar with to successfully complete a given project. A brief description of each of these nine knowledge areas is provided here.

  1. Project integration management describes the ability of the project manager to “identify, define, combine, unify, and coordinate” the various project activities into a coherent whole (PMBOK 2008). It is understood by senior project managers that there is no single way to successfully complete this task. In reality, each manager must apply their specific skills, techniques, and knowledge to the job at hand. This knowledge area incorporates all five of the PMBOK process groups.
  2. Project scope management entails an understanding of not only what work is required to complete the project but also what extraneous work should be excluded from project. Defining the scope of a project is usually done via the creation of a scope plan document that is distributed among team members. This knowledge area incorporates the planning, as well as the monitoring and controlling process groups.
  3. Project time management takes into account the fact that all projects are subject to certain time constraints. These time constraints must be analyzed and an overall project schedule must be developed based on inputs from all project stakeholders (see Section 10.2.1 "Scheduling" for more on scheduling). This knowledge area incorporates the planning, as well as the monitoring and controlling process groups.
  4. Project cost management is focused not only with determining a reasonable budget for each project task but also with staying within the defined budget. Project cost management is often either very simple or very complex. Particular care needs to be taken to work with the sponsor/client as they will be funding this effort. Therefore, any changes or augments to the project costs must be vetted through the sponsor/client prior to initiating those changes. This knowledge area incorporates the planning, as well as the monitoring and controlling process groups.
  5. Project quality management identifies the quality standards of the project and determines how best to satisfy those standards. It incorporates responsibilities such as quality planning, quality assurance, and quality control. To ensure adequate quality management, the project manager must evaluate the expectations of the other stakeholders and continually monitor the output of the various project tasks. This knowledge area incorporates the planning, executing, and monitoring and controlling process groups.
  6. Project human resource management involves the acquisition, development, organization, and oversight of all team members. Managers should attempt to include team members in as many aspects of the task as possible so they feel loyal to the work and invested in creating the best output possible. This knowledge area incorporates the planning, executing, and monitoring and controlling process groups.
  7. Project communication management describes those processes required to maintain open lines of communication with the project stakeholders. Included in this knowledge area is the determination of who needs to communicate with whom, how communication will be maintained (e-mail, letter reports, phone, etc.), how frequently contacts will be made, what barriers will limit communication, and how past communications will be tracked and archived. This knowledge area incorporates the planning, executing, and monitoring and controlling process groups.
  8. Project risk management identifies and mitigates risk to the project. It is concerned with analyzing the severity of risk, planning responses, and monitoring those identified risks. Risk analysis has become a complex undertaking as experienced project managers understand that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Risk management involves working with all team members to evaluate each individual task and to minimize the potential for that risk to manifest itself in the project or deliverable. This knowledge area incorporates the planning, as well as the monitoring and controlling process groups.
  9. Project procurement management, the final knowledge area, outlines the process by which products, services, and/or results are acquired from outside the project team. This includes selecting business partners, managing contracts, and closing contracts. These contracts are legal documents supported by the force of law. Therefore, the fine print must be read and understood to ensure that no confusion arises between the two parties entering into the agreement. This knowledge area incorporates the planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing process groups.

Project Failure

Murphy’s Law of Project Management states that no major project is completed on time, within budget, and with the same staff that started it—do not expect yours to be the first. It has been estimated that only 16 percent of fully implemented information technology projects are completed on time and within budget (The Standish Group International 2000).The Standish Group International. 2000. “Our Blog.” These failed projects result in an estimated loss of over $81 billion every year! David Hamil discusses the reasons for these failures in his web feature titled, “Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It: Project Management Excellence” (

The first noted cause for project failure is poor planning. Every project must undergo some type of planning-level feasibility study to determine the purpose of the project and the methodologies employed to complete it. A feasibility study is basically used to determine whether or not a project should be given the “green light.” It outlines the project mission, goals, objectives, scope, and constraints. A project may be deemed unfeasible for a variety of reasons including an unacceptable level of risk, unclear project requirements, disagreement among clients regarding project objectives, missing key stakeholders, and unresolved political issues.

A second cause for project failure is lack of corporate management support. Inadequate staffing and funding, as well as weak executive sponsorship on the part of the client, will typically result in a project with little chance of success. One of the most important steps in managing a project will be to determine which member of the client’s team is championing your project. This individual, or group of individuals, must be kept abreast of all major decisions related to the project. If the client’s project champion loses interest in or contact with the effort, failure is not far afield.

A third common cause of project failure is poor project management. A high-level project manager should have ample experience, education, and leadership abilities, in addition to being a skilled negotiator, communicator, problem solver, planner, and organizer. Despite the fact that managers with this wide-ranging expertise are both uncommon and expensive to maintain, it only takes a failed project or two for a client to learn the importance of securing the proper person for the job at hand.

The final cause of project failure is a lack of client focus and the lack of the end-user participation. The client must be involved in all stages of the lifecycle of the project. More than one GIS project has been completed and delivered to the client, only to discover that the final product was neither what the client envisioned nor what the client wanted. Likewise, the end-user, which may or may not be the client, is the most important participant in the long-term survival of the project. The end-user must participate in all stages of project development. The creation of a wonderful GIS tool will most likely go unused if the end-user can find a better and/or more cost-efficient solution to their needs elsewhere.

Key Takeaways

  • Project managers must employ a wide range of activities and actions to achieve the overall goals of the project. These actions are broken down into five process groups: initiation, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing.
  • The activities and actions described in this section are applied to nine management knowledge areas that managers must be cognizant of to ensure that all the goals of the project will be met: integration management, scope management, time management, cost management, quality management, human resource management, communication management, risk management, and procurement management.
  • Projects can fail for a variety of reasons. Successful managers will be aware of these potential pitfalls and will work to overcome them.


  1. As a student, you are constantly tasked with completing assignments for your classes. Think of one of your recent assignments as a project that you, as a project (assignment) manager, completed. Describe how you utilized a sampling of the project management process groups and knowledge areas to complete that assigned task.