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.

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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 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 third project management phase is project execution, which is when the tasks and milestones outlined in the project plan are tackled to meet the project goals and objectives.

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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

    3. 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
    4. .

      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:

      Gantt Charts

      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.

      A screenshot of the Gantt chart in ProjectManager.com

      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.

      Kanban Boards

      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.

      Kanban board in ProjectManager.com

      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

      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 Reports

      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:

      Project management training video (ra7kwjmbuu)

      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.

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