What Is Project Management?
Project management is the discipline of planning, executing and completing projects. Project managers achieve this by using a set of methodologies, processes and tools to guide their teams and manage resources.
Today, most project management professionals use project management software to plan, execute and control projects. ProjectManager, for example, lets you manage plans, resources, costs and teams in one online tool.
Use our Gantt charts, kanban boards, and calendars to create project schedules and assign work with real-time resource availability.
Let’s take a look at the main elements that make up the project management discipline. You can use the links below to navigate through this guide.
- Project Management Knowledge Areas
- The Project Life Cycle
- Project Management Methodologies
- The Triple Constraint
- Project Management Tools & Techniques
- Project Management Software
- Project Management Team Roles
- Project Management Certifications
Project Management Knowledge Areas
The term project management knowledge areas is used to describe all the different aspects of a project that need to be managed. Project managers are responsible for overseeing these areas, so they use all the tools, methods and resources available to them.
Here’s a list of all the 10 project management knowledge areas, as described by the Project Management Institute (PMI) in its Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). Click the links for an in-depth explanation of each.
- Integration Management: Takes various project management processes and methodologies to create a strategy that helps teams work better together. This fosters teamwork and synchronizes information for more clarity.
- Scope Management: Project tasks, deliverables and milestones are identified, defined and controlled through a process that includes collecting stakeholder requirements, creating a work breakdown structure (WBS) and then monitoring and managing changes.
- Schedule Management: Details how the project schedule will be created, managed and monitored. It is part of the planning stage of project management and creates a realistic timeline to achieve project goals.
- Cost Management: Process that manages the planning and controlling of costs related to a project. This means collecting, analyzing and reporting on costs to forecast and monitor the project budget to keep from overspending.
- Quality Management: Overseeing all activities related to creation of project deliverables to make sure that it meets quality expectations. This is done by continuing to measure quality throughout execution of the project and correcting any deviations from quality expectations.
- Resource Management: Getting the most from the people, materials and equipment needed to execute your project by allocating and reallocating resources as needed.
- Communication Management: Various processes used to deliver clear messages in a project. It involves the creation of channels, frequency and correct messaging to make sure they’re received in a timely manner and understood.
- Risk Management: Identifying, evaluating and preventing or mitigating risks in your project, whether these are negative risks to avoid or positive risks to exploit.
- Procurement Management: Building and maintaining relationships with external resources required in your project. This includes vendors that sell products and services needed to meet project objectives.
- Stakeholder Management: Identifying project stakeholders, determining their expectations and influence, and then developing strategies to manage them and keep them updated on progress.
These project management knowledge areas need to be managed from the beginning to the end of your projects. All projects go through the same phases, which are known as the project management life cycle.
The Project Life Cycle
The project management life cycle is made up of five phases, known as project management process groups: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and control and closure.
The term project management process groups was coined by the Project Management Institute (PMI), and it’s widely used in the project management industry. Some authors use synonyms such as project life cycle or project lifecycle, project management process or project management phases.
Let’s learn about each of these project life cycle management phases.
The Project Management Phases: How to Manage a Project Step by Step
Above, we identified the five stages of the project management life cycle. Now it’s time to put that information to practical use.
In this section of the guide, we are going to break down each stage with actionable steps that outline how to manage a project.
1. Project Initiation
This is the starting phase where the project manager must prove that the project has value and is feasible through a series of project management documents. Here’s the most important ones:
- Business case: A business case justifies the need for the project, project objectives and return on investment.
- Feasibility study: A feasibility study proves that the project can be executed within a reasonable time and cost.
- Project charter: A project charter conveys what the project is going to deliver.
- Assemble Project Team: Resources are needed to execute any project. Before a project schedule can be made, a project team must be created. This includes creating job descriptions, roles and responsibilities. All this information can be later put into a team charter.
- Set Up Project Management Office (PMO): The project management office is usually a physical space set up for the project manager and support staff. So, the infrastructure for the project management office includes having project management software and any equipment needed.
- Kickoff meeting agenda: This project management stage culminates in a project kickoff meeting, where the project team and project stakeholders are brought together to agree upon project goals and objectives, scope and timeline.
2. Project Planning
The goal of the project planning phase is the creation of the project plan, which covers how every project management area will be managed during the project execution phase.
Here’s a quick overview of the most important components of a project plan. As you can see, some of them are smaller action plans to manage specific areas.
- Project Schedule: The project schedule defines a timeline for the execution of tasks and resource allocation. Project managers need to constantly monitor the project schedule with task management and time tracking tools.
- Project Budget: A project budget is the sum of all the estimated project costs. Project managers need to control costs so that they don’t exceed it.
- Work Breakdown Structure (WBS): A WBS is a project planning tool that allows project managers to visualize all the activities, milestones and deliverables in their project scope, and prioritize them.
- Scope Management Plan: Explains how your project scope will be controlled throughout the project to avoid scope creep.
- Risk Management Plan: Contains a risk register where all potential risks are listed, along with the risk owner and risk mitigation strategies that would be implemented for each of them.
- Resource Management Plan: Describes how your resources will be obtained, allocated and managed throughout the project.
- Stakeholder Management Plan: Identifies all project stakeholders, prioritizes them, and explains the communication channels and conflict resolution strategies to be used.
Project managers often lay out their project plan using a Gantt chart software, which provides a visual representation of the entire project schedule and project scope. Some Gantt charts automatically identify critical path activities.
3. Project Execution
The project execution phase is when project managers need to oversee all project management knowledge areas as their project progresses towards the monitoring and control phase.
- Task Management: Project managers and team members need to manage their tasks. This involves monitoring and reporting to make sure the task is being executed within the timeframe of the planned schedule. Task lists and kanban boards are two popular tools for task management.
- Schedule Management: Once a schedule is created, it must be monitored through the project execution to make sure it stays on track. Proper schedule management charts a path to keep task progress, goals, priorities and deadlines matching with the schedule.
- Cost Management: Just as a schedule is planned, so too is the budget. But that doesn’t mean the job is done. As anyone with a wallet knows, money has a tendency to disappear. Project costs must be controlled to keep them within the agreed budget.
- Quality Management: Deliverables should be produced on time and within budget, but if the quality is lacking then the project isn’t successful. Therefore, make sure whatever success criteria and quality requirements have been set by project stakeholders is being met.
- Change Management: Broadly, change management is a process for improving business processes, budget allocation and operations in an organization. However, when applied to project management, the focus is narrowed to the project itself and controlling changes in scope during the execution phase.
- Procurement Management: Few is the project that can be done without having to purchase, rent or contract with outside resources. This process is called procurement. Managing relationships with vendors and suppliers is what procurement management is all about.
- Resource Management: Resources are anything needed to get the project done. That includes the team, supplies, equipment, materials, etc. Resource planning includes the roles and responsibilities for the team, what they’ll need and where they’ll be working.
- Team Collaboration: Once the execution of the project begins, the planning leads the way, but team members need to have tools to work together so they can stay in close communications. Team collaboration can be facilitated by team-building exercises and tools that connect team members, whether they’re in the same office or working remotely.
Along the way, the project manager will reallocate resources or adjust time and scope as needed to keep the team working. In addition, they will identify and mitigate risks, deal with problems and incorporate any changes.
4. Project Monitoring and Control
The fourth project management phase, project monitoring and control, takes place concurrently with the execution phase of the project. It involves monitoring the progress and performance of the project to ensure it stays on schedule and within budget. Quality control procedures are applied to guarantee quality assurance.
Reporting is also a critical part of this project management phase. First, it allows project managers to track progress, and second, it provides data for stakeholders during presentations to keep them in the loop. There are many project management reports such as project status, timesheets, workload, allocation and expense reports.
5. Project Closure
The fifth project management phase is project closure, in which the final project deliverables are presented to the stakeholders. Once approved, resources are released, documentation is completed and everything is signed off on.
Here are some of the main steps of this project management phase.
- Transfer Deliverables: The project is about producing a final deliverable. That marks the end of the project execution and the beginning of the project close. Therefore, make sure all project deliverables are identified, completed and handed off to the proper party.
- Confirm Completion: At this stage, confirmation is needed from all stakeholders, clients, even the project team. That means sign-offs, so there is no confusion and last-minute change requests.
- Review Documentation: Usually, the project manager is responsible for going over all contracts and documentation to make sure everything has been okay and signed off on.
- Release Resources: Before a project is completed, the team, any contract workers, rentals, etc. must be officially released. Have a process in place to notify and make sure everyone is paid up.
- Do a Post-Mortem: A post-mortem is when the finished project is analyzed to note what worked and what didn’t. This is a great way to repeat successes and repair mistakes for the next project. Don’t forget to celebrate with the team! They deserve it.
Now that we’ve learned about the project management life cycle, let’s take a look at some project management approaches.
Project Management Methodologies
Throughout the years, many project management methodologies have been developed to adjust to the needs of different industries. Some of these project management types or approaches also work best for projects of certain sizes and complexity levels.
Here’s a list of the main project management methodologies. Click the links for an in-depth explanation of each.
- Waterfall Project Management: A linear project management approach, in which stakeholder requirements are gathered at the beginning of the project, and then a sequential project plan is created.
- Agile Project Management: An iterative project management approach, that doesn’t follow a rigid project plan, but short sprints of work called agile sprints.
- Scrum Project Management: An agile framework that is very popular for product and software development.
- Lean Project Management (or Lean Manufacturing): This technique was invented to improve manufacturing processes and became a very important project management methodology through the years.
- Kanban Method: Kanban is a widely used project management approach which consists in managing work through visual boards and cards. Kanban boards are used by agile and scrum teams.
- Six Sigma: Just like kanban or lean, six sigma is a set of tools and techniques that was developed to improve production processes, and later became a project management approach.
- Critical Path Method (CPM): The critical path method is a project scheduling technique that allows project managers to estimate the duration of a project, identify task dependencies, float and critical activities.
- Critical Chain Project Management: A project management approach that’s based on the theory of constraints and uses resource management as the primary way to execute projects effectively.
- PRINCE2: PRINCE2 is the most popular project management methodology in the UK, Australia, and European countries. PRINCE2 is very similar to the Project Management Body of Knowledge from the PMI because it provides definitions and best practices for project managers.
The Triple Constraint
The triple constraint, also known as the project management triangle, or iron triangle, refers to the boundaries of time, scope and cost that apply to every project. Here’s how it works.
- Time: Project managers must estimate the time required to complete a project. To do so, they use project scheduling tools such as PERT charts or the critical path method.
This must be done during the initiation and planning phases of the project life cycle to develop a schedule covering the duration of all the activities.
- Project Scope: The scope refers to all the work necessary to complete a project. It must be identified during the planning stage by using a work breakdown structure.
If the scope is not defined in the project plan, it can cause the project to fail, which is known as scope creep.
- Cost: There are many costs associated with a project. Project managers are responsible for estimating, budgeting and controlling costs so the project can be completed within the approved budget
Project managers balance these three constraints making trade offs between them. For example, you can increase the number of activities in your project scope, but this means there will be less time and costs will be higher for each project task.
Now that we’ve covered the most essential project management concepts, it’s time to take a look at the tools and techniques that project managers can use to plan, monitor and control.
Project Management Tools & Techniques
There are a wide range of project management tools, both online and mobile, available to manage projects. These are the most essential tools for a project manager:
A Gantt chart is a visual representation of a project timeline which shows all the project tasks in one graph. Gantt charts are used for project planning, project scheduling, task management and resource management. They work best on waterfall projects.
The Gantt chart is the preferred method used by project managers to schedule their projects. Some tasks are dependent on others before they can start or end, and these task dependencies can create bottlenecks later on in the project.
By linking them on a Gantt chart, a head’s up is created to avoid slowing down the schedule. Projects can be divided by milestones, diamond symbols, which indicate the end of one phase and the beginning of the next.
A kanban board is a task management tool that allows project managers and team members to visualize tasks. Kanban boards are used by agile and scrum teams who work in iterative sprints. They’re easy to use and foster team collaboration.
Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)
A work breakdown structure is a very useful project planning tool that allows project managers to map out the project scope and break it into individual tasks. WBS are used in conjunction with methods and techniques such as the critical path method (CPM), Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) and Gantt charts.
Network diagrams help project managers visualize schedules. Some examples of project management network diagrams could be a critical path diagram or a PERT chart.
Project management reports are an essential part of the monitoring phase. Reports are also necessary for stakeholder management, cost management and time tracking purposes.
Project Management Software
Project management software is a platform for managers to plan, monitor and report on projects; it lets teams manage their work and collaborate, too. Watch the video below to see project management software in action:
ProjectManager offers a suite of all the project management tools you need to take your project every step of the way—from initiation through closure. We have the best project planning, scheduling and tracking features.
Project Management Team Roles
A project works best when project management roles are well-defined. While there are project management methods that require different types of project teams, these are the main project management roles:
- Project Manager: As we’ve mentioned above, the project manager is responsible for managing the project management knowledge areas throughout the project.
- Project Sponsor: The project sponsor represents the customer of the project. Depending on the organization, there can be different levels of project sponsors.
- Project Team Members: Team members are skilled professionals who work to contribute to the process of producing deliverables, managing risks and achieving project goals.
- Project Stakeholders: This is a person or a group who has a vested interest or “stake” in the project. The project manager must communicate project progress to stakeholders throughout the project life cycle.
Ready to become a project management professional? You’ll need a certification program to become a professional project manager.
Project Management Certifications
There are several organizations over the world that provide project management certifications and training. Here are the most popular ones.
- Google Project Management Certificate: Google recently developed this training program in association with coursera, which teaches all the project management basics.
- PMI Certifications: PMI offers numerous project management certifications. Most project managers obtain the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification which is an industry standard
- Agile Certifications: There are plenty of agile project management certification and training courses. These are a requirement for agile and scrum project managers.
- PRINCE2 Certifications: PRINCE2 is the project management framework used in the UK, Australia and Europe. You’ll need specific certifications to participate in a PRINCE2 project.
Project Management Roles
A project works best when project management roles are well-defined. While there are methods of project management allowing for more fluidity, these are the main roles on a project:
- Project Sponsor: This is the person accountable for the outcome. The project sponsor are often the senior manager who has come up with the idea for the project and their team will get the benefit. Ultimately, they represent the customer of the project. Depending on the organization, there can be different levels of project sponsors, such as an executive project sponsor.
- Supplier: Someone is doing the work, and that might be an internal supplier such as a development team or an external contractor. The supplier is represented on the project team by their main point of contact who might be their technical expert, an account manager or a project manager.
- Team Member: This is a person tasked with completing a part of the project. Team members are skilled professionals, who work to contribute to the process of achieving the project objectives and goals. Often they are tasked with documenting the process, as well.
- Stakeholder: This is a person or a group who has a vested interest or “stake” in the project. It might be an internal group or agency within an organization or it might be the public at large for a public works project. The project manager communicates project progress to stakeholders throughout the lifecycle of the project and seeks feedback on project deliverables and performance.
- Clients: This is a group or a person for whom the project or a key component of the project is delivered.
Project Management Knowledge Areas
Each of the project management processes has a specific purpose through the project life cycle and when done right, they guarantee the successful completion of projects.
The scope refers to all the work required to complete a project which is defined by a work breakdown structure during the planning phase. In simple terms, scope management consists in including all the activities, and clarifying what won’t be done. This is the base for scheduling, budgeting, and task management.
This process begins with careful planning. Once the work breakdown structure is constructed, one can know every task needed to complete the project. Then, tasks can be assigned to team members. It is important to understand the task dependencies so that tasks are laid out in the order in which they need to be completed.
This process consists in effectively identifying, acquiring and allocating resources such as people, capital, equipment and materials to complete tasks and produce deliverables. Once the project scope is defined, the resources that will be needed for each activity can be determined. As the project progresses, the use of resources must be controlled.
The schedule management process can be divided in 3 sub processes: estimating, scheduling and controlling. First, estimate the time for each activity, milestone and deliverable. Then develop schedules based on those time estimates. Once the execution phase begins, monitor the project schedule regularly.
The risk management process identifies what might happen to throw the project off track and then define a response so there are contingency plans in place.
This is usually done on larger projects, rather than smaller. Although even for small teams, a short sync up with the team to identify potential problems in the plan would be useful to guard against the unexpected and have plans of action in case it does. There are several types of risks, but the most important are those that affect the triple constraint.
During the initiation phase, the stakeholders express their quality requirements for the project deliverables. Based on that, project managers develop a quality policy which defines the quality control procedures that will guarantee quality assurance.
Stakeholders are the soul of a project. By understanding their needs and frequently communicating with them throughout the project life cycle, their requirements can be more easily met.
This process is applied to every stage of the project life cycle. It involves cost estimation, establishing budgets and cost control. Begin by estimating the cost associated with each task, and then create a budget to cover those expenses. Once the execution phase begins, monitor the cost of the project as it progresses.
A risk is a problem affecting the project. Issue management is how problems are dealt with when they turn up on the project and it’s worth working out what this is going to look like because something is bound to go wrong.
The process will cover who needs to be notified, how to make decisions about what to do next, and who has the authority to take action.
Every project has changes. Sometimes that’s because the objective wasn’t defined particularly well at the outset. Or because the business strategy has changed and the project needs to be updated accordingly. A change management plan must be made, which will include the project’s change management procedures and forms.
Many projects involve working with suppliers and there is normally a process around how to engage and contract with them so everyone knows what to expect and what they are getting for their money.
Yes, communication is a process! Identify who needs to get which message when and which method of communication is most appropriate. A communication plan does this.
These are the most common project management processes, but teams can create in-house bespoke processes to deal with the quirks of their organization. The key thing is avoiding starting from scratch every time, and that there is a level of standardization into how projects are managed as much as possible.
Project Management Methodologies
Depending on the industry, objectives and stakeholder requirements, project managers can employ different project management methodologies to manage the five stages and achieve a successful outcome. These are some of the most popular:
Agile is often used in software projects but it’s becoming more common on other types of projects, like marketing. It involves iterative working in short bursts called “sprints.” The work is time-boxed and the team gets as much done as they realistically can before moving to the next set of requirements.
The Agile principles have been used to develop methods like scrum, extreme programming, crystal, among others.
Scrum is a short “sprint” approach to managing projects. It’s ideal for project management teams of no more than 10 people, and often is wedded to two-week cycles with short daily meetings, known as daily scrum meetings. It’s led by what is called a Scrum master. Scrum works within an agile framework and it consists of time boxes, collaborative team interactions, a product backlog, and feedback cycles.
The waterfall model is a linear approach to delivering work. The project manager comes up with the stakeholders’ requirements, puts the design together, builds the solution, tests and implements it and then moves it into a maintenance stage.
Lean has come to mean a couple things recently, since the advent of the Lean Startup movement, which favors an iterative approach to product development and involves bringing in end-users early and often for feedback on the project’s delivery.
Traditionally in project management, Lean PM is a way of eliminating waste in processes and making sure the people involved work effectively together. It streamlines the handoffs between teams, eliminating downtime. A common feature of lean working is to only work on one project at a time.
Kanban is a visual approach to project management. It manages workflow by placing tasks on a Kanban board where workflow and progress is clear to all participants. Kanban improves inefficiencies, and has been used to schedule lean manufacturing in Agile projects.
With the dawn of visual planning boards in software in our era, like Trello, there are now new uses for Kanban tools and Kanban methods. Agile teams use Kanban boards for story-boarding user stories and for backlog planning in software development.
Six Sigma works to improve quality by identifying what is not working in the project. It applies quality management, including empirical statistics, and employs personnel who are experts in these disciplines. There is a Lean Six Sigma that adds lean methodology to eliminate waste.
As a doctrine, it says continued efforts to achieve results which are stable and expected are most important to success. Processes can be defined and improved. It takes the whole organization, from the top down, to sustain quality in a project.
Critical Path Method (CPM)
The critical path method consists of building a model that includes all the activities listed in the work breakdown structure to identify the project’s task sequences and their duration. With this information, the critical activities that must be completed on time to avoid affecting the project schedule can be identified.
Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM)
In CCPM, project managers focus on the resources they’ll be using to complete the project, such as teams, equipment, office space, etc. It’s a less technical method of project management that doesn’t put as much emphasis on task order or scheduling, but rather on balancing resources and keeping them flexible.
CCPM can be applied to both large and small companies, and for projects in industries such as construction, software development and tech research and development.
How to Become a Project Manager
Project managers are leaders. They need to motivate their teams as well as plan, monitor and report on their progress. It’s a job requiring many hats. They must have strong communication skills and be able to clearly connect with both stakeholders and the project team.
Formal project managers are typically certified through agencies like the Project Management Institute (PMI) in the U.S. or PRINCE2 in the U.K. After certification, they are required to maintain their certifications by acquiring additional project management training to gather a targeted number of Professional Development Units (PDU).
As mentioned previously, the standards of qualification for certified project managers has recently broadened to include more leadership and business skills. PMI’s certification and PDU standards can be found in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Sixth Edition, or on their website. But it can be difficult to get to grips with the technical aspects of project management without the formal certification training.
But certification is not always a requirement, it can be something acquired later in one’s career. Most project managers usually start off with a business administration degree, but not always. Often experience speaks louder than degrees. For example, if you’re leading a creative project, an arts-related degree would likely be more appropriate.
How Much Does a Project Manager Make?
In terms of salary, a project manager can earn anywhere from under $100,000 to close to $200,000 a year. This is dependent on a number of factors, including location, education, years of experience, performance and more.
Project Management Resources
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