This is “Project Management Defined”, section 1.1 from the book Beginning Project Management (v. 1.1). For details on it (including licensing), click here.

For more information on the source of this book, or why it is available for free, please see the project's home page. You can browse or download additional books there. You may also download a PDF copy of this book (55 MB) or just this chapter (8 MB), suitable for printing or most e-readers, or a .zip file containing this book's HTML files (for use in a web browser offline).

Has this book helped you? Consider passing it on:
Creative Commons supports free culture from music to education. Their licenses helped make this book available to you. helps people like you help teachers fund their classroom projects, from art supplies to books to calculators.

1.1 Project Management Defined

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify the Project Management Institute’s definition of project management. 1.1.1
  2. Analyze and evaluate the role of client expectations in a project. 1.1.2
  3. Define project scope. 1.1.3

“Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.”Project Management Institute, Inc., A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide), 4th ed. (Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute, Inc., 2008), 6. This simple definition represents a compromise that resulted from intense discussions within the Project Management Institute (PMI)Organization of professional project managers that publishes A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide). during the 1980s. One of the priorities of PMI during this time was the development of project management as a profession. Although debate continues on whether project management is a profession with an enforceable code of conduct and other traditional criteria for recognition as a profession, the development of A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) and the project management certifications that derived from these efforts helped promote the understanding and development of the project management field.

The discussion about what should be in the definition of project management included debates about the purpose of project management. Is the main purpose to meet client expectations or is the main purpose to meet the written specifications and requirements? This discussion around meeting project requirements was not easily settled. If it is assumed that the project client is the one who defines project requirements, then maybe project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to meet client requirements or client expectations. PMI’s definition of project management does provide a good understanding of project management, but it does not help us understand project success. For that, we must include the client.

Figure 1.1

Project discussions include clients.

Jack Meredith and Samuel MantelJack R. Meredith and Samuel J. Mantel, Jr., Project Management: A Managerial Approach (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2006), 8. discussed project management in terms of producing project outcomes within the three objectives of cost, schedule, and specifications. Project managers are then expected to develop and execute a project plan that meets cost, schedule, and specification parameters. According to this view, project management is the application of everything a project manager does to meet these parameters. This approach to defining project management shares PMI’s focus on the project outcomes in terms of requirements.

Meredith and Mantel added a fourth aspect of project management—the expectations of the client. One client-centered definition of project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to meet or exceed the expectations of the client. This definition focuses on delivering a product or service to the client that meets expectations rather than project specifications. It is possible to meet all project specifications and not meet client expectations or fail to meet one or more specifications and still meet or exceed a client’s expectation.Russell W. Darnall, The World’s Greatest Project (Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute, Inc., 1996), 48–54.

Meredith and Mantel discussed a tendency noted by DarnallRussell W. Darnall, The World’s Greatest Project (Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute, Inc., 1996), 48–54. that expectations often increase during the life of a project. Meredith and Mantel suggest that this is a form of scope increase. A project scopeDocument that reflects the performance specifications of the project deliverables. See scope of work (SOW). is a carefully crafted document that reflects the performance specifications of the project deliverables. Defining the project scope and managing scope change is a very different process from developing an understanding of a client’s expectations and managing those expectations. Darnall focused on defining and managing client expectations as a critical project management skill that is distinct from scope development and management.

Client expectations encompass an emotional component that includes many client desires that are not easily captured within a specification document. Although closely correlated with project specifications, client expectations are driven by different needs. It is possible for a project team to exceed every project specification and end up with an unsatisfied client.

Highway Project

The Department of Highways in South Carolina was exploring ways to reduce the road construction costs and developed new contracting processes to allow the road builders to bring new ideas for cutting costs. On one project, the contractor proposed cost-cutting ideas throughout the life of the project. At each phase, the client accepted many of the ideas and then revised the budget. The client promoted the revised cost target of the project as an example of the success of the new process. By the end of the project, the final cost was less than 1 percent over the newest target. Although the total cost of the project was almost 10 percent less than the original cost projections and contract obligations, the success of the project was connected to the new expectations that developed during the life of the project. Even though this project performance exceeded the original goal, the client was disappointed.

The reverse is also true. A project can be late and over budget and the client can be satisfied. Although this may be counterintuitive, the response of a client to the events of a project is complex and goes beyond the data related in project specifications.

Biotech Project

A biotechnology company developed a new drug that proved to have a large market demand, and the team that developed the drug was assigned to build a new manufacturing facility to produce the drug. The project manager for the construction company that was awarded the contract to build the manufacturing facility managed the project effectively. Every request for a change in scope was approved, and the result was a 20 percent increase to the total cost of the project. On most projects, a 20 percent increase in the project cost would be considered poor performance. For the client’s project team, who were accustomed to complex projects with a large number of unknown issues that increase the final cost of the project, a 20 percent overrun in cost was not unusual. Even though the project was 20 percent over budget, the client was happy. Client satisfaction is often tied to expectations about project performance. Identifying and managing those expectations is a primary responsibility of the project manager.

Key Takeaways

  • According to PMI, project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to meet project requirements.
  • The role of the client is controversial. Some clients include meeting or exceeding their expectations as part of project management.
  • Project scope is a document that defines the work required to complete the project successfully.


  1. According to PMI, project management is the application of knowledge, ________, tools, and techniques to meet project requirements.
  2. According to Meredith and Mantel, a project should ____ __ ______ (three words) the expectations of the client.
  3. If someone had asked you to define project management before you read this section, how would you have defined it? How did your definition differ from the PMI definition?
  4. What aspect of project management was omitted from the PMI definition that is included in the definition proposed by Meredith and Mantel? If you were on the PMI decision-making body, would you vote to include it? Explain your choice.
  5. What is meant by the statement “The response of the client to the events of the project may be counterintuitive”?

Client Expectations

Compare and contrast the highway and biotech examples previously described. Suggest an approach that might have prevented client disappointment in the highway project. Include the following in your answer:

  • What are the differences between the two projects? Provide a bulleted list.
  • Identify the single most important difference between the two projects that affected client satisfaction.
  • Suggest an approach to managing client expectations in the highway project that might have resulted in meeting or exceeding expectations rather than disappointment.