Key Skill for Project Managers: Concept Development

Linh Tran, Wednesday 16 February 2022 | Reading time: 7 min.

Concept development is a key skill for project managers. Concepts form the bridge to project planning because you can derive the most important tasks from them. 

Does this sound familiar: A manager calls an employee in and proudly informs them about new challenges, ideas and projects. But first of all, they need a concept, and the employee has to create one. Back at the desk, the employee sits in front of a blank sheet of paper or an empty Word file. What now?

Following various analyses (e.g. risk analysis), concepts are usually created as a starting point for important and large projects, as well as other endeavors. Concepts are the bridge to project planning because you can derive the most important tasks from them. Thus, concept development is an important key skill for project managers and all those who want to become one.

Definition of a concept

What exactly is a concept? The word concept comes from Latin and means design. Drafting, in turn, is synonymous with creating a provisional version. In the business world, however, the term is used in very different ways. On the one hand, a concept is indeed understood to mean a rough draft. However, we would never call a marketing concept created by an agency, or even a concept for a project necessary for the project proposal, a draft. This type of concept should ultimately be very convincing. Only with a meaningful concept can the responsible decision-makers assess whether the opportunities outweigh the risks in the case of a possible implementation. So when we speak of a concept in project management, we are not talking about a simple draft.

Competencies for concept development

In project management, we generally use a very structured approach to work through a plan according to clear specifications. The situation is completely different when it comes to concept development, however, because the concept developer has a great deal of creative freedom here. This is exactly the challenge our employee faces when faced with a blank sheet of paper or an empty Word file. You need the following competencies for successful concept development:

1. Listening

Listening is the crucial skill in concept development, because only when you have understood all the information and requirements of the client, you can later incorporate them into the concept and implement them.

2. Creativity

We have already established that concept development offers a great deal of creative freedom. In order to use these freedoms to your advantage and not to despair of them, you should be able to bring in a certain amount of creativity.

3. Organized 

A convincing concept is built along a red thread and thus logically structured. Only with a structured approach can you guarantee this requirement.

4. Present

Of course, in the end, the project manager must also convincingly present their developed concept and make it palatable to the decision-makers. Therefore, you should have good rhetorical skills and enjoy presenting.

Some of the competencies mentioned above can of course be learned, such as rhetorical skills. Other competencies can be fostered or supported with the help of certain techniques (e.g. creativity methods).

The goals of a concept

The concept is a very important document of the project preparation phase and has several important goals:

  • Basis for the project proposal
  • Assessment criterion as to whether opportunities or risks predominate
  • Information for stakeholders not directly involved in the project
  • Information for the project team
  • Basis for project planning
  • Structuring/processing of all findings from previously conducted analyses (project environment analysis, risk analysis, etc.)

The basic components of a concept

Despite the given freedom of design, there are some basic components that every concept should contain and which you can use as a guideline.

1. Task definition/ project description

At the beginning of conceptual work, there is usually an explicit task definition or, in project management, the project description. Here, you record all information and requirements of the client and roughly introduce the project.

2 Situation analysis

Subsequently, you will perform a short situation analysis. In the situation analysis, possible situations are considered from different perspectives, influencing factors and interconnections are determined, weak points are identified and risks are defined. The situation analysis is very similar to the project environment analysis (e.g. PESTLE), therefore some findings can be adopted directly.

You can use the following guiding questions as a basis for the situation analysis:

  • What do we want to change?
  • What do we want to develop/impact?
  • How has the issue/situation been dealt with so far?
  • What happens if we do nothing/if we do not implement the project?
  • The situation analysis ends with concrete results, which you can then continue to work with.

3. Goal setting

Based on the situation analysis, you then develop the objective of the project. Pay particular attention to formulating measurable and objectively assessable goals in order to enable a later evaluation of the concept by the responsible decision-makers. In addition, possible conflicting goals should be identified as part of the goal-setting process.

The goal setting usually contains the following aspects:

  • Weighting of the objectives (priorities)
  • Content-related goals
  • Scheduling
  • Cost targets
  • Procedure goals
  • Conflicting goals

4. Evaluation

This subsection of the concept is intended to provide decision-makers with starting points to assess the opportunities and risks of the project. Consequently, concepts create the necessary transparency for well-founded and comprehensible decisions. Among other things, methods such as the cost-benefit analysis, the cost comparison calculation, the impact analysis or also the utility value analysis offer you assistance for this.

5 Implementation

In this final section, you should address all aspects that are necessary for the implementation of the project. Particularly important here are the required resources and the estimated budget requirements.



(Original German text by Kathrin Jungwirth; English translation by Linh Tran)

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