Project management is the discipline of initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and finally closing the work of a team to achieve specific goals and success criteria.
A project stands in contrast with business as usual (or operations), which are repetitive, permanent, or semi-permanent functional activities to produce products or services.
The management of these two systems are different and require the development of distinct technical skills and management strategies.
While operations tend to lean on an existing and defined team organised around processes, projects often draw resources from different areas with no prior process in place, thus the need for project management to fill the gap.
Project management provides formal approaches to support participants in interdisciplinary and temporary projects.
They are two important success factors in projects: goal setting and the human factor.
Goals are set by people
I was taught the principles of Project Management by John Patton; founder of the firm Cadence Management. I remember how he used to insist and have us exercise writing goals for projects in a limited number of words and a strict structure to force us to stick to the essential.
By doing so we actually defined priorities we could refer to and focus on, later in the project. A vaguely or poorly defined project goal will lead to problems down the line.
A goal can only be as "SMART" as the people who set it.
Teams are made of people
Projects by nature draw people from areas as different as marketing, engineering, legal or finance. Each of them have different priorities, vocabulary, culture and more. Making them work towards the same goal can be daunting.
While a charismatic sponsor or a great goal may be helpful, you still need to pull the whole thing together and this takes a special kind of person: the project manager.
He might not be the best in all compartments but he has the maturity and the interpersonal skills to navigate the maze of the various characters in the team as well as the tensions that inevitably arise as a project unfolds. If team members individually mean well they often have different managers with conflicting priorities and that alone could create havoc, having a broader understanding and knowing how and when to escalate as difficulties arise is essential.
No software, no charts, can handle this better than a person.