What Is Project Management?

To define project management, one must define a project. Anything that has a start, a finish and produces a deliverable is a project. Project management, therefore, is the method by which a project is planned, monitored, controlled and reported on—in other words, managed.

That’s a lot. In fact, project management is an umbrella term that covers a number of related disciplines, such as planning, scheduling, task management, resource management, risk management and much more.

The person who is responsible for overseeing a project is the project manager. They develop a plan that meets the stakeholders’ expectations and assembles a project team. The project manager then monitors and controls the execution of the project until a quality deliverable is produced. This is often done with the aid of project management software.

What Is Project Management Software?

Project management software is a platform that helps managers plan, monitor and report on projects; it helps teams manage their work and collaborate, too. Good software empowers project teams, so they can manage all the details that go into a successful project.

If you need assistance with your projects, and are 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.

ProjectManager.com is award-winning project management software

The Project Management Life Cycle

Because projects have a start, a middle and an end, they all go through a series of phases. If you can grasp these five phases, then you’ll have a good grip on what project management is all about.

The five phases are outlined below.

Initiation

This is the starting phase of your project. You develop the idea and put together the Project Charter, a document that sets out exactly what the project is going to deliver and how you are going to get there. (Download a free Project Charter template and save yourself some time).

This stage of the project culminates in a project kickoff meeting, where you bring together the team, stakeholders and relevant other parties to define the project goals, schedule and processes like how to communicate and the chain of communication.

Planning

The next phase is where you plan the work by breaking it down into smaller chunks and estimating how long each will take. The output from this is your project plan, often visualized on a Gantt chart, which represents the order of tasks and how they are interdependent. This gives you a roadmap for the work until the project reaches its conclusion.

Executing

This is where the bulk of the work happens. Now that you have a plan, you can execute that plan. Along the way you’ll monitor and control the work to make sure that you stay on track in terms of budget, schedule and quality performance.

You’ll also work to identify and mitigate risks, deal with problems and incorporate any changes. The bulk of the work of a project manager happens in this phase.

Closing

Project work needs to be closed down carefully to make the most of what was achieved and to ensure that any lessons learned are passed onto teams who will benefit. In this phase you’ll get user acceptance for the work that was completed, finish off any final paperwork and reports and hand any deliverables over to a different team, such as the operations management team.

How to Manage a Project: A Step-By-Step Guide

The project management life cycle is a high-level view of the course every project takes. But there’s more to a project than these five sections.

Follow these steps and you’re on your way to managing the nitty gritty of a project.

Initiation Phase

Documentation

Every project has documentation that must be completed before the project can begin in earnest. For example, there’s a business case, which lists the reasons why the project is needed and what the return on investment will be. There’s also a feasibility study to determine if the project is even possible with consideration to an organization’s resources.

Considering the amount of paperwork that is required before you execute a project, not to mention all the documents you’ll collect during the project and the need to archive them after you close the project, it’s key to have a project management software that can collect all those files and make them easily accessible.

Assemble Project Team

You need resources to execute any project. Before you can make a project schedule, you need to create a project team with the skill sets and experience that 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 your project management software.

Onboard Your Team Onto ProjectManager.com

Set Up Project Office

The project office is usually a physical space that is 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 also any support staff will be located in this space. So, the infrastructure for the project office needs to be set up, which includes having project management software and any equipment needed for the project.

Planning Stage

Create Task List

Tasks are the smaller jobs that build up to the final deliverable in a project. They are in essence tiny projects. You develop a task list by putting your final project deliverable on the top of a work breakdown structure, which is a tree diagram helping you map the path to completing the project without missing any vital steps along the way.

At this point you have a task list and can set priorities, so the tasks can be filtered by high, low or medium.

Task Management Software with List View

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.

Once you have a planned budget, you can add that to ProjectManager.com and you can then compare it to the actual cost of your resources as you execute the project. That data threads to reports and a real-time dashboard, so you’re never caught off-guard if expenses spike.

Risk Management Plan

If only the project would conform to your plan. But things happen, 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.

Communications Plan

Good communications means a successful project. To have a clear communication plan in place means you have targeted the people who need to be kept informed, what level of information they require, the frequency and how they will get it.

Make a Project Schedule

The Gantt chart is the preferred method used by project managers to schedule their projects because of the way it’s laid out. Gantt charts are like spreadsheets with the added bonus of a timeline. They not only list all your tasks, but those tasks are also charted across a timeline, so you can see the entire project at a glance.

Some tasks are dependent on others before they can start or end, these task dependencies can create bottlenecks later on in the project. By linking them on your Gantt, you have a head’s up to avoid slowing down your schedule. Projects can also be divided by milestones, diamond symbols, which indicate the end of one phase and the beginning of the next.

Online Gantt chart from ProjectManager.com

Assign Tasks

Tasks are just 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

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.

Kanban Boards for Task Management

Time Management

Once you’ve planned a schedule, you have to monitor it through the project execution to make sure it stays on track. Effective time management means greater productivity. You’ve set goals, priorities and deadlines, now as the project tasks are being executed, it’s critical that you make sure those dates are matching with your schedule.

Cost Management

Just as you planned your schedule, you planned a budget. But that doesn’t mean your job is done. As anyone with a wallet knows, money has a tendency to disappear. You have to control the project costs and keep them within the agreed budget.

Your budget is a baseline with which to measure your actual spending during a project. There are several ways to keep track of your actual expenditure. There’s the Gantt chart, which tracks what you’re actually spending, so you can compare it to the budget.

ProjectManager.com’s Gantt Chart Can Track Costs

Quality Management

You can produce your deliverables on time and within budget, but if the quality is lacking then the project isn’t successful. Therefore, you need to make sure that you’re meeting whatever quality requirements have been set by your stakeholders.

When you’re executing the project, to maintain the quality of your deliverable means having tools like ProjectManager.com to monitor the process. Our dashboard gives you six metrics to track in real-time, therefore when an issue arises, you can capture it quickly and resolve it fast to maintain the quality of your deliverable.

ProjectManager.com real-time dashboard

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 the various relationships with vendors and suppliers is what procurement management is all about.

Resource Management

Resources are anything you need to get the project done. That includes your team, supplies, equipment, materials, etc. It includes the roles and responsibilities for the team, what they’ll need and where they’ll be working.

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.

Collaborate Easily in ProjectManager.com

Monitor & Control

When executing your project, you’re constantly monitoring its progress from every angle and doing your best to control the process to maintain the schedule and budget of your project plan. This technique can be summed up as constantly checking the actual performance of your project against its planned performance. When anomalies occur, you 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, just to name a few.

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 that 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 and allocation. You can even track expenses. All the reports can be customized to get just the data you want.

Make Project Reports Quickly

Closing Phase

Transfer Deliverables

Your project is about producing a deliverable. That marks the end of the project execution and the beginning of the project close. Therefore, make sure you have all deliverables identified, complete and handed off to the proper party.

Confirm Completion

A project isn’t over until everyone sings. You need to get confirmation from all stakeholders, clients, even the team. That means sign-offs, so that there is no confusion and last-minute change requests.

Those sign-off documents can be added to ProjectManager.com, either in the files section or attached to the relevant task. Now you have a digital papertrail to make sure that everyone is in agreement.

Review Documentation

Usually, the project manager is responsible for going over all contracts and documentation to make sure that 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.

Release Resources

Before a project is really done, you have to officially release the team, any contract workers, rentals, etc. Have a process in place to notify and make sure everyone is paid up.

Do a Post-Mortem

A post-mortem is when you look at the finished project and pick apart the process to note what worked and what didn’t. This is a great way to repeat successes and repair mistakes for the next project. Also, don’t forget to celebrate with your team. They deserve it.

The Triple Constraint

No guide to project management would be complete without mentioning the triple constraint. The triple constraint in project management refers to time, scope and cost. Time is your schedule, scope being the tasks needed to reach the project goals and cost the financials or project budget.

You can see how important this is to any project. The three points of this triangle are always influencing one another. If you suffer a setback in time, then you’re going to have to adjust either scope or cost. The same being true for the other points.

The success of any project rests on these three pillars. While managing the triple constraint doesn’t ensure a successful project, there are many other factors at play, but these are three giants that must be managed or else there’s going to be trouble.

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Project Management Tools

We no longer live in the same world as Henry Gantt, where project schedules were produced meticulously by hand. We can all be grateful that project management tools have evolved dramatically since then.

Today, there are a wide range of project management tools, both online and mobile, available to help you manage your projects.

Gantt Chart

The online version has come a long way from Lego pieces on a peg board. Today’s Gantt charts are interactive and collaborative. But they retain their basic structure, which is 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.

But there is much more that a Gantt chart can do, such as the online Gantt chart from ProjectManager.com, which allows you to 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.

Track progress with online Gantt charts from ProjectManager.com

Dashboard

A dashboard can be easy or complex to make. Essentially a dashboard is a compilation of 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.

The dashboard is an ideal tool to keep stakeholders updated on the project, as they usually don’t want to get into great detail. That way you know the dashboard is up-to-date. Some dashboards have to manually assemble a bunch of disparate reports and then compile them in yet another program to “create” a dashboard.

ProjectManager.com portfolio dashboard

Task List

Project management tools are used to manage tasks, to assign and track them over the course of the project to make sure they’re meeting the demands of the project schedule. A good project management tool will give teams more control over their tasks and managers more transparency into the process.

ProjectManager.com allows teams to see their tasks and only their tasks. They can then monitor their upcoming tasks, update tasks as they complete them and send notes to the team leader as needed. ProjectManager.com fosters team collaboration, whether they’re working under the same roof or remotely, so they can work more productively together.

my work on ProjectManager.com

Project Calendar

A project calendar is a great way to track due dates and other important milestones in a project. It is wedded to the project schedule and its timeline. Calendars can also mark holidays, days off, vacations and other scheduling resources.

Calendar project view ProjectManager.com

Kanban Board

Kanban is a visual workflow tool that is part of the just-in-time lean manufacturing method. It means that work is only ready when the resources and capacity to it is ready.

Kanban is made up of a board with columns that represent the production cycle and cards under those columns that represent the tasks. Cards are then moved from column to column as the work is scheduled, executed and completed. Kanban provides transparency and keeps teams focused on the work at hand.

ProjectManager.com kanban boards project view

Workload Tools

This is the amount of work that has been assigned. But workload can often be poorly distributed, with some taking the brunt of it and others being left relatively idle. This is called an imbalanced workload. When assigning and when tasks are being executed, it’s important to know how much work each team member is responsible for.

ProjectManager.com solves this with its workload page, a color-coded view of team availability and schedule. Team leaders can decide whether a particular person is overallocated or under-allocated, and adjust their workload from that page.

Workload management from ProjectManager.com

Resource Management Software

Resources are anything you need for the project. That means, tools, equipment, supplies and even people. Managing resources, so that they’re available when needed is a project within the project, especially when dealing with outside vendors and suppliers. Therefore, you need a tool that keeps track of these resources, how much they cost and when you’ll need them in the project, and then coordinate all that to work with your plan.

Team availability ProjectManager.com

Timesheet

Keeping track of team members’ or contractor’s hours is part of the responsibility of the project manager. They need a tool that can track hours and then submit them for approval to make sure everyone is paid on time and for the work they’ve done.

ProjectManager.com timesheets

Collaboration Tools

Collaboration is simply working together for greater efficiency and productivity. It can be hard enough when everyone is in the same room, let alone in different time zones.

Whether your team has a lot of remote workers or external clients, or is mostly in-house, using collaboration tools can drastically cut down on email time and helps keep vital project communication with the project. This can be especially helpful when doing project post-mortems or when simply searching for essential project files and conversations on a larger project.

ProjectManager.com facilitates collaboration with features like document sharing, chat and commenting.

ProjectManager.com collaboration

Project Management Roles

Projects aren’t just tools and phases: projects are made possible by people. Those people have specific jobs to do. A project works best when those roles are well-defined. While there are methods of project management that allow for more fluidity, these are the main roles on a project:

Project Sponsor

This is the person accountable for the outcome. They are often the senior manager who has come up with the idea for the project and their team will get the benefit. For example, the sales director would sponsor a project to introduce a new online sales tool.

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.

Project Manager

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 certified.

In more informal organizations, the project manager does not require certification. Project managers are responsible for planning, monitoring and reporting on the project, including resource planning, cost estimation and more.

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 project objective.

They are tasked with completing the deliverables and working with the user to figure out what their business needs are and how to meet them. 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 usually works to communicate the project to the stakeholders throughout the lifecycle of the project and seeks feedback on project deliverables and performance while managing their expectations, as well.

Clients

This is a group or a person for whom the project or a key component of the project is delivered.

Project Management Processes

The roles in project management are the people who man the processes. While we have touched on this topic earlier, it deserves closer attention. Processes underpin the life cycle and help you move the work through the life cycle until the objective is completed.

The project management processes that you’ll see come up time and time again are:

  • Risk iconRisk Management: The risk management process helps you identify what might happen to throw your project off track and then define a response so you’ve got 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 help identify potential problems in the plan would be useful to guard against the unexpected and have plans of action in case it does.

  • Issue iconIssue Management: An issue is a problem that has happened (different to a risk, because that hasn’t happened yet). Issue management is how you deal with problems when they turn up on your project and it’s worth working out what this is going to look like for you because something is bound to go wrong.

    The process will cover who needs to be notified, how you make decisions about what to do next, and who has the authority to take action.

  • Change iconChange 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. The change process helps you incorporate these into your project plan with the least hassle possible.
  • Procurement iconProcurement Management: Many projects involve working with suppliers and there is normally a process around how you engage and contract with them so that everyone knows what to expect and what you are getting for your money.
  • Communications iconCommunications: Yes, communication is a process! You have to identify who needs to get which message when and which method of communication is most appropriate. A communication plan will help you do this.

Pro Tip: If you do nothing else on your project, make sure you develop a communication plan and actually communicate! This is the fastest and most efficient way to stay on top of your project performance.

These are the most common processes, but you can also create in-house bespoke processes to help you deal with the quirks of your organization. The key thing is to make sure you aren’t starting from scratch every time, and that you are introducing standardization into how you manage projects as much as possible.

Project Management Methodologies

To save you from reinventing the wheel, over the years people have come up with some tried-and-tested ways of getting project work done. Here are some common approaches to project management:

Waterfall

The waterfall model is a linear approach to delivering work. You come up with the requirements, put the design together, build the solution, test and implement it and then move it into a maintenance stage.

Good for: projects where the requirements are clear or little change is expected along the way.

Avoid when: you don’t really know how you are going to get to the end result and the requirements aren’t clear.

Agile

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.

Good for: projects where you want to incorporate quick wins and build iteratively.

Avoid when: you work in a traditional environment and the change to agile methods hasn’t yet been completed or even understood.

Lean

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 that 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.

Good for: process improvement projects and critical initiatives that need focus.

Avoid when: we’re not sure! Every piece of work can benefit from trying to make the processes involved as simple and easy to use as possible.

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 that requires 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 an agency like PMI in the U.S. or PRINCE2 in the U.K. After certification, they are required to maintain their certifications by acquiring additional 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.

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.

The History of Project Management

You might think of project management as a relatively new discipline, but actually humans have been managing projects since before the Great Wall of China, before the Roman aqueducts, before the pyramids of Giza, and likely before that. It’s inconceivable to think that the pyramids were built in an ad hoc manner. Rather, you can bet there were plans, schedules, teams, budgets and everything we’d recognize today as project management.

Fast forward a couple thousand years, and the more standardized discipline of project management starts to really emerge in the 1950s. By that time, many industries had implemented structured processes for management and manufacturing. Henry Gantt’s Gantt chart was already in use and a popular choice for scheduling, and the Dupont Corporation added to the knowledge of scheduling by developing the Critical Path Method in 1957, which helped people understand which task on the plan had the least flexibility around the dates.

From the 1950s on, people carried on managing projects for years, often using custom methods and designing processes themselves. That changed when A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) from The Project Management Institute (PMI) was accredited as an ANSI standard in 1998, although PMI had been founded quite a few years prior in 1969.

The last few years have also seen big changes in project management. For one thing, there’s now an ISO Standard for project management (IS21500) which came out in 2012. But the biggest change of all has been a shift away from learning about scheduling and the technical skills for managing projects to a recognition that people matter on projects.

The knowledge base for project management is constantly growing. In the 2017 edition of the PMBOK Guide (the Sixth Edition) there is a section on the process of control resources and updated sections on monitor and control project work, control schedule, control costs, control quality and control procurement.

In 2016 PMI introduced an entirely new set of competencies for the PMP certifications and the PDU requirements called the Talent Triangle. Traditionally, professional project managers (PMP) needed to demonstrate core skills in technical project management. Now they are required to demonstrate broader skills in business management such as strategy and customer relations, or leadership skills such as coaching and emotional intelligence. Now, today’s project managers are challenged to be more like mini-CEOs, with abilities to be both tactical and strategic across the spectrum of the project.

Project Management: The End of the Beginning

And that’s it. Not really. As you’ve gathered, project management is a massive endeavor made up of disciplines complex enough to offer a lifetime of study. Anyone who is seriously into project management knows that we’ve just touched the tip of the iceberg. There’s a wealth of project management we’ve not covered or only covered superficially.

But now you know what makes project management tick and if you’re interested it can be a skill that will inevitably fascinate and frustrate you. One thing we can guarantee, though: you’ll never be bored. Just don’t be complacent. There’s always more to learn. Stay curious. We have a few links below from the extensive ProjectManager.com library of resources that will send you on a journey into project management. Happy trails!

Of course, you can sign up for a free trial of ProjectManager.com and start managing your projects right away. There’s no better lesson than experience!

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