What Is Project Management?

Project management is the discipline of planning and executing projects. Project management seeks to achieve defined goals by using plans, schedules and resources to execute project activities within a set timeframe.

Project goals and objectives are defined by the client or stakeholders, and a project manager applies project management methodologies to create a plan that establishes the resources, tasks, milestones and deliverables necessary to meet stakeholder requirements. This plan must also account for the triple constraint, which refers to the limitations of time, cost and scope that apply to every project.

In order to balance constraints, requirements and schedules, managers often use project management software to execute projects. Online software can keep projects on track and teams productive.

ProjectManager, for example, lets you manage plans, resources, costs and teams in one online tool. Use our Gantt charts to create project schedules and assign work with real-time resource availability. As team members complete their assignments, project plans update automatically, keeping your projects on track and under budget.

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What is a Project?

A project is a series of tasks with a specific objective (or deliverable) to be completed within a set timeline, and upon completion, a product or service is created. Projects are unique because they end, unlike other business functions that repeat or continue regularly.

The Five Phases of the Project Life Cycle

Every project goes through the project life cycle, which is made up of five project management process groups: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and control and closure.

Phase 1: Project Initiation

This is the starting phase where the project manager must prove that the project has value and is feasible. This includes creating a business case that justifies the need for the project, and a feasibility study to prove it can be executed within a reasonable time and cost.

Then a project charter, which is a document that conveys what the project is going to deliver, is created. A project brief serves a similar purpose. Their main difference is that a project charter is part of the PMBOK framework, while a project brief aligns with the PRINCE2 methodology.

This project management stage culminates in a project kickoff meeting, where the team, stakeholders and other relevant parties are brought together to lay out the project goals, schedule, processes and the chain of communication.

Phase 2: Project Planning

After the project has been approved, the project moves into the second project management phase: project planning. The goal of this phase is the creation of the project plan, which will be the guide for the next two phases. The project plan must include every component associated with the execution of the project, including the costs, risks, resources and timeline.

Related: Free Project Plan Template for Word

During this phase, the project scope (the work required to complete the project) is defined using a work breakdown structure (WBS). The WBS breaks the project down into activities, milestones and deliverables, making it easy for project managers to create schedules and assign tasks to their team members.

Project managers often lay out their project plan using a Gantt chart software, which provides a visual representation of the entire project. This provides a roadmap for the work until the project reaches its conclusion.

Phase 3: Project Execution

The third project management phase is project execution, which is when the tasks and milestones outlined in the plan are tackled to produce the deliverable to the client’s or stakeholder’s satisfaction.

Along the way, the project manager will reallocate resources as needed to keep the team working. In addition, they will identify and mitigate risks, deal with problems and incorporate any changes.

Phase 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.

The biggest issues in a project are typically related to three factors—time, cost and scope, which collectively are referred to as the triple constraint. The main goal of this phase is to set firm controls on the project to ensure those three factors don’t go off track.

Phase 5: Project Closure

The fifth project management phase is project closure, in which the final deliverables are presented to the client or stakeholder. Once approved, resources are released, documentation is completed and everything is signed off on. At this point the project manager and team can conduct a post-mortem to evaluate the lessons learned from the project.

Depending on the project, the closure phase may include handing over control to a different team, such as an operations management team. In this case, it is the job of the project manager to ensure such a transition occurs smoothly.

ProjectManager offers a suite of all the tools you need to take your project every step of the way—from initiation through closure. Upload all your documents into one secure location, and make a comprehensive project plan that accounts for your budget, resources, workload and more. Then, create a schedule in the format that works best for you, whether that be a Gantt chart, a Sheet or a kanban board. When you’ve made your plan and set a baseline, track variances in real time on your customizable project dashboard. Try it free today.

team collaboration on Gantt

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The Triple Constraint

The triple constraint, also known as the project management triangle, refers to the boundaries of time, scope and cost that apply to every project. This concept is a cornerstone of project management, and therefore managers must pay special attention to the schedule, budget and work breakdown structure during the planning phase. Let’s look at how time, scope and cost are managed with the help of project management processes.


Project managers must estimate the time required to complete a project. To do so, they use 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. Once the execution phase begins, the status of the project must be monitored to make changes to the schedule baseline. The project management process responsible for this constraint is schedule management.


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 properly defined early in the project, it can expand during the execution phase due to unplanned activities. This is known as scope creep, and might cause projects to fail. The scope management process helps keep this constraint in check.


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. All of this falls under the process known as cost management.

The Importance of the Triple Constraint

Clearly, the triple constraint is crucial to any project. And it’s critical to remember that the three points of this triangle are always influencing one another. If there is a setback in time, then there will have to be an adjustment in either scope or cost. The same being true for the other points. It’s the duty of the project manager to always keep these constraints in check.

What Is a Project Manager?

A project manager is the individual tasked with planning and executing the project: this is the person responsible for leading the team and organizing the work. In more formal, structured organizations and on larger, more complex projects, the project manager is usually a certified project management professional (PMP) by the Project Management Institute (PMI).

In more informal organizations, such as a small business, the project manager does not require certification. Project managers are responsible for all the different project management processes taking place throughout the project life cycle, such as risk management, task management, resource management, among others. In simple terms, they supervise the planning, execution, monitoring and closure of the project.

However, most project managers share common roles and responsibilities. Some of the more traditional duties of a project manager include the following:

  • Scope Management: Defining the work needed to complete the project activities
  • Task Management: Planning tasks and defining their deliverables
  • Resource Management: Using people, capital, materials and all other resources efficiently
  • Team Management: Assembling and leading a team
  • Schedule Management: Analyzing the duration of activities to create a project schedule. Once the execution phase begins, the project status must be monitored to update the schedule baseline
  • Quality Management: Establishing a quality policy for the project’s deliverables and implementing quality assurance and quality control procedures
  • Cost Management: Estimating costs and creating a budget
  • Stakeholder Management: Satisfying stakeholders expectations and communicating with them throughout the project life cycle
  • Risk management: Identifying, monitoring and minimizing project risk
  • Status Reporting: Monitoring and tracking progress and performance by generating reports and other documentation

Project managers learn and receive certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI), which has codified standards in the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK). The Project Management Professional certification (PMP) is standard for project managers, but the PMI offers more specialized training choices such as the program management professional (PgMP) and Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP).

Armed with their knowledge and skills, project managers rely on project management software to execute all of the tasks necessary for a successful project.

What Is 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. Good project management software empowers teams, so they can manage all the details crucial for a successful project. Watch the video below to see project management software in action:

Project management training video (ra7kwjmbuu)

If you’re looking for a better way to manage your tasks and teams, take a free trial of ProjectManager.com today. Our award-winning project management software has a full suite of tools such as Gantt charts, kanban boards and dashboards, so projects can be completed on time and under budget.

Project Management Tools

There are a wide range of project management tools, both online and mobile, available to manage projects:

Gantt Chart

Gantt charts are an interactive and collaborative tool which display a project as a spreadsheet to the left and a timeline to the right. Tasks are listed to the left and populate the timeline, with a status bar stretching from the start date to the end date. They are used to plan and schedule projects.

A screenshot of the Gantt chart in ProjectManager.com

But there is much more a Gantt chart can do, such as set milestones, assign and link dependent tasks, so that if one task’s date changes, all downstream tasks will adjust as well. Editing is easily done by dragging and dropping.


A project dashboard is a widget that displays project data points such as budget, task status, team workload and overall plan status. It provides a high-level view of the project and its progress as mapped by several metrics.

Project management dashboard in ProjectManager.com

Some dashboards are created taking disparate project reports and compiling them in an external program. Most project management tools have a feature that automatically creates a project dashboard from your project data.

The dashboard is an ideal tool to keep stakeholders updated on the project, as they usually don’t want to get into great detail.

Task List

A task list is used to manage, assign and track tasks over the course of the project to make sure they’re meeting the demands of the project schedule.

Project management task list in ProjectManager.com

A good task management tool gives teams control over their tasks and managers more transparency into the process.

Kanban Board

A kanban board is a board (either physical or digital) with columns representing the production cycle and cards under those columns representing the tasks. Cards are moved from column to column as tasks are scheduled, executed and completed.

Kanban board in ProjectManager.com

Kanban provides transparency and keeps teams focused on the work at hand.

Project Reports

Project reports are used to compile and share data on key performance indicators of a project, such as actual progress vs. the baseline, costs, time, workload and much more.

Project management reporting tool screen in ProjectManager.com

Keeping track of the project’s progress and performance is critical to meeting milestones and delivering a successful project. Reports should be easy to share, as they’re a communication tool for updating stakeholders.

The Project Management Phases: How to Manage a Project Step by Step

Above, we covered 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.

Initiation Phase

  1. Documentation: Every project has documentation that must be completed before the project can begin in earnest, such as a business case, which lists the reasons why the project is needed, the project objectives and what the return on investment will be. There’s a feasibility study to determine if the project is even possible with consideration to an organization’s resources and business goals.
  2. Assemble Project Team: Resources are needed to execute any project. Before a project schedule can be made, a project team must be created to cover the skill sets and experience the project demands. This includes creating job descriptions, what the objective is and what their responsibilities will be in the project. All this information can be later put into a team charter.
  3. Set Up Project Office: The project management office is usually a physical space set up for the project manager. Determining where this will be is part of the initiation phase of a project. Not only the project manager, but any support staff will be located in this space. So, the infrastructure for the project management office needs to be set up, which includes having project management software and any equipment needed for the project.

Planning Phase

  1. Create Task List: Tasks are the smaller activities that build up to the final deliverable in a project. They are in essence tiny projects and identifying them is a critical project planning step. Develop a task list by putting the final project deliverable on the top of a work breakdown structure, which is a tree diagram that maps the path to completing the project without missing any vital steps along the way.
  2. Make a Budget: Tasks cost money. They require team members to execute and other resources, which can include materials, tools, etc. The budget is a way to estimate the cost of the project.
  3. Risk Management Plan: If only the project would conform to the plan. But there are always changes; some within your control and others outside of it. Before starting a project, you need to try and identify risks and have a risk management plan to monitor and respond quickly to them.
  4. Communications Plan: Good communications means a successful project. A clear communication plan ensures the people who need to be kept informed will be, along with the level of information they require, the frequency and how they will get it.
  5. Make a Project Schedule: 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, 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.
  6. Assign Tasks Tasks: are only ideas until they’re given to a team member to complete. All the preparation you’ve put into planning is dependent on getting that assignment out to the team, so they can do what they were hired to do.

Execution Phase

  1. Task Management: To make sure a task is done right, it has to be managed each step on the way, from planning to completion. This involves monitoring and reporting to make sure the task is being executed within the timeframe of the planned schedule. Project managers and team members need to manage their tasks. Task lists and kanban boards are two popular tools for task management.
  2. 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. Effective schedule management means greater productivity. Project management software should have time tracking features to help with this process.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 stakeholders is being met.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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. This leads to greater productivity. Collaboration can be facilitated by team-building exercises and tools that connect team members, whether they’re in the same office or working remotely.

Monitor & Control Phase

  1. Monitor the Process: When executing a project, one is constantly monitoring its progress from every angle and doing the best to control the process to maintain the schedule and budget of the project plan. This technique can be summed up as constantly checking the actual performance of the project against its planned performance. When anomalies occur, this offers a chance to catch them quickly and fix them fast to maintain control. There are many project controls, such as project strategy, methodology, risk management, quality and resources, to name a few.
  2. Reporting: Reporting has a twofold impact on the project. One is that it allows project managers to track progress, and two, it provides data for stakeholders during presentations to keep them in the loop. Project reports can vary from task progress to variance and cost. There are reports on project and portfolio status, timesheets, workload, allocation and expenses. All the reports can be customized to get the data needed.

Closing Phase

  1. Transfer Deliverables: The project is about producing a deliverable. That marks the end of the project execution and the beginning of the project close. Therefore, make sure all deliverables are identified, complete and handed off to the proper party.
  2. Confirm Completion: At this stage, confirmation is needed from all stakeholders, clients, even the team. That means sign-offs, so there is no confusion and last-minute change requests.
  3. 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. Sometimes in larger organizations there is a dedicated admin for this job. Whoever does it, the importances of making sure every i is dotted and t crossed cannot be overstated.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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.

Scope Management

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.

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.

Resource Management

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.

Schedule Management

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.

Risk Management

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.

Quality Management

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.

Stakeholder Management

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.

Cost Management

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.

Issue Management

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.

Change Management

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.

Procurement Management

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

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.



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