What is project management?

It doesn’t matter what industry you work in; projects, and the need to manage them effectively, are necessary to your success. This is what makes project management a vital life skill, but it isn’t something that comes naturally to us all.

If you’ve ever wanted to explore what it takes to be successful at project management, or what a project manager does, then you’re in luck. We’ve put together this quick guide that walks you through all there is to know about project management.

Keep reading…

What is project management?

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To understand what is project management, let’s first understand what is a project

A project refers to anything that is temporary in the sense that it has a start and produces an end result.

Projects require a team of people to come together temporarily to focus on specific project objectives, whether it’s to create a product, service, or result. Unlike the day-to-day operations of a business, a project is unique and designed to achieve a specific goal. In fact, it’s not uncommon for people across multiple organizations or geographic locations to work on a project together, even though they hadn’t met before. 

Project management refers to the initiation, planning, execution, and administration to meet project requirements and achieve project objectives.

The core components of project management

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There are several key factors involved in project management. These include:

  • Identifying the reasons why a project is required
  • Obtaining project requirements, indicating the quality of the deliverables, and assessing resources and timelines
  • Preparing a case to rationalize the investment in the project
  • Acquiring an organization’s agreement and funding
  • Creating and implementing a project management plan
  • Leading and overseeing project team members
  • Managing and mitigating any risks, issues, or changes with the project
  • Monitoring the project’s progress against the schedule set out for it
  • Managing the project’s budget
  • Acting as the main point of contact for project stakeholders
  • Closing the project in the appropriate manner, if needed

Project management life cycle phases

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Every project has a beginning, middle, and end. This is known as the project life cycle

The project life cycle can be broken down into five distinct parts, allowing a project manager to tackle the entire project in a series of smaller phases:

  • Project initiation: This first phase aims to define the project, including its purpose, goals, requirements, and risks. The goal is to prove that the project is feasible, while also outlining the key stakeholders and the project management tools which will be used.
  • Project planning: Perhaps the most crucial stage, the planning phase requires the project manager to outline the details and goals of the project so that it meets the requirements set out for it. KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are established, potential risks are identified, and team members are briefed on their roles and responsibilities. 
  • Project execution: This is usually the longest project phase, as it is where the project’s tasks kick-off. Time, money, and people are all pulled into the project and the action begins.
  • Monitoring and controlling: During this stage, which occurs in tandem with the execution phase, the project manager must ensure requirements are being met, the agenda is being followed, and overall that everything is progressing toward the end result as desired.
  • Project closure: While this stage represents the project’s end, a project manager’s tasks aren’t over just yet. Loose ends are tied up, materials are organized, and the project’s end result is reflected upon to determine what went well and which areas may need improvement for future projects.

The 10 PMBOK knowledge areas

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The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) isa set of foundational rules and guidelines which are continuously expanded and updated by the project management institute (PMI) to help standardize the many parts of project management.

As we have seen within the previous section of this guide, every project needs to go through 5 chronological phases (initiating, planning, executing, monitoring & controlling, and closing). In the Project Management Body of Knowledge, these process groups form the master skeleton within which the knowledge areas hang on.

These are the 10 project management knowledge areas:

#1. Project integration management: bringing together every aspect of the project and overseeing these components as a whole

#2. Project scope management: the combined objectives and requirements needed to complete a project

#3. Project time management: how long the project must take to be completed

#4. Project cost management: how much the project will cost to complete

#5. Project quality management: the degree to which the project meets the standards set out for it

#6. Project human resources management: employees that work for an organization and who will be assisting with the project

#7. Project communications management: the ways in which information is exchanged between individuals, i.e. through written, spoken, or other forms

#8. Project risk management: the recognition, evaluation, and prioritization of risks, as well as the procedures to minimize or avoid them

#9. Project procurement management: sourcing and acquiring what is needed for the project to be fulfilled

#10. Project stakeholder management: the process of maintaining good relationships with the people who have the most impact on your project and both managing and meeting their expectations

What does a project manager do?

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As you’ve probably already gathered by now, the project manager is the person responsible for the entire project. They work within a team to oversee all things related to the project, including its scope, schedule, team members, potential risks, budget, time frame, and more.

Project managers are organized, passionate, and goal-orientated professionals that know how to:

1. Communicate with team members and other stakeholders. The project manager must clearly explain each project’s goals, as well as each team member’s tasks, obligations, and expectations. They must also provide feedback to ensure each individual is on the right track and act as an intermediary between everyone involved within the projects, including project sponsors and other stakeholders. Without effective communication from the project manager, each project runs the risk of not achieving its goals.

2. Motivate team members to perform at their best. To be a project manager is to be in a position of leadership, where you are managing not just one team, but multiple different teams. Part of your role is to motivate each team member and drive them to perform at their best, so the projects are huge successes. Having strong leadership skills also means leading by example and not being afraid to provide critical feedback when necessary.

3. Determine the best actions to achieve the best results. Running any project requires seemingly endless decisions to be made, so imagine this on a larger scale when managing multiple projects at once. Decision-making isn’t for the faint-hearted; you need to determine the best actions to achieve the best results possible for each project. Those who can make a decision with conviction and a rational mind are therefore well-suited to being a project manager.

4. Manage time and team performance. A project manager uses the project management software and other programs to ensure that the project remains on track time-wise. Organizations are turning more and more to the online world in terms of their business processes and functionality, so a project manager must be able to adapt to this fast technological pace quicker than most.

5. Inspire and motivate. If all the team members and stakeholders across a project don’t have a shared vision and common goal, it’s unlikely that it can succeed. An important part of a project manager’s role is helping the teams across their multiple projects realize this common goal and do everything within their power to achieve it. A great project manager brings people together — not split them apart. After all, project management is all about collaboration.

6. Team-building. Speaking of collaboration, a project manager must also possess the team-building skills necessary to ensure each team works together like a well-oiled machine. If the team isn’t working together in unison, then aspects of the project will derail, potentially making it go over budget or beyond its initial deadline. Teamwork makes the dream work, and this is a slogan every project manager lives by.

7. Early identify issues and take the best resolution. Of course, no project is without its setbacks, but it’s important that the project manager is calm under pressure and has the ability to adapt, change, and keep the project on track for success — no matter what problem crosses its path. A project manager who doesn’t have a level head during adversity may negatively affect relationships within the project’s team, which will only make things worse.

8. Resolve conflicts. It’s important to mention that in any work situation, conflicts can still arise, and therefore a project manager must also have the negotiation skills to work out any disagreements among team members or other stakeholders and restore the balance. Through negotiation, a project manager must reach an agreement that keeps stakeholders happy, while not compromising on the quality of the project’s outcome.

Project manager vs. Program manager

Generally, a project manager must:
– Handle the individual project, including its scope, schedule, and resources
– Gather and oversee the project team and their performance
– Produce successful project outcomes by ensuring it is on time and under budget

Whereas, a program manager is responsible for:
– Managing multiple projects, often at once
– Overseeing multiple project teams and, at times, multiple project managers
– Producing successful program outcomes

Creating a project management plan

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The project management plan outlines what the project needs to accomplish, and how the team members will carry out the work.

To take the guesswork out of creating a highly successful project management plan, we’ve detailed the step-by-step approach to create your own below.

Step 1: Identify and meet with stakeholders

Determine who the stakeholders are and organize to meet with them to discuss what they want to achieve with the project. Stakeholders are anyone involved with the project, including project sponsors, an organization’s management team, etc. Use their needs and desires as the objectives your project will aim to deliver.

Meeting with key stakeholders also allows you to establish criteria for the project’s scope, budget, and timeline. Armed with this information, you can then put together a Scope Statement as a way of finalizing and recording these important details so everyone remains on the same page.

Creating a Scope Statement is simple. In an easy-to-read table format, simply outline the following:

  • Stakeholders
  • Objectives
  • Requirements and deliverables
  • Limitations and expectations

Step 2: Outline project objectives

Remember those stakeholder needs we talked about in the previous step? This is now the part where you list these objectives and rank them by urgency or importance. It is a vital step within the project management plan phase, as these goals will impact every decision in the project lifecycle. For example, they indicate to the project team:

  • What they should be concentrating on
  • What they should dedicate resources to
  • How their activities serve the goals of the wider organization

When listing your project objectives, it’s important that they are both measurable and linked to KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that can be used to analyze the project’s overall success. A good tip is to ensure your project’s objectives are SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Step 3: Identify the deliverables

The deliverables are simply elements of output required within the scope of a project. In other words, the different steps required to meet the project’s goals.

Start by making a list of these, then you will organize them further into a work breakdown structure (WBS). The WBS takes the larger deliverables and breaks them down into smaller deliverables, listing them in a step-by-step hierarchy.

Identify the resources needed for each task, if known, and estimate how long it will take to complete each task. Don’t worry too much about setting concrete deadlines just yet, as this will be done in the next step.

Step  4: Determine your project schedule

With your list of deliverables that have been broken down into smaller, bite-sized tasks, you can now determine the all-important project schedule. This schedule should define which tasks are dependent on other tasks and develop a critical path that must be followed through to the project’s close.

Think of it as a timetable that outlines the start and end dates of each task, evenly distributes the work among team members, and helps everyone stay accountable for their responsibilities and deadlines. It’s an extremely vital part of any project and will be referred to often throughout the project’s entirety.

Step 5: Conduct a risk assessment and develop a risk management strategy

Risks are any unforeseen incidents that can affect your project — for better or for worse. Some examples of common risks include busy seasons, public holidays, project team members being on sick leave, or technology malfunctions.

It’s important to note that all projects come with risks, but once you’ve identified what these risks are, it makes it a lot easier to mitigate them by developing the appropriate strategies. Ask yourself:

  • What might happen to disturb your project?
  • When is it likely to happen?
  • What’s the likelihood of it happening?
  • What’s the expected impact?
  • What events might forewarn or cause the risk event?

The next step is to create a risk management strategy, which involves the following:

  • Determine your “risk tolerance”: How much risk can the project endure before stakeholders will require it to be abandoned? Do you have the authority to deal with risks accordingly, or must certain stakeholders be consulted first?
  • Decide which risks to manage: Some potential risks will be an inefficient use of your time and budget, so determine which ones will require action, and which others may simply be allowed to fly under the radar.
  • Identify project risk triggers: Look back to the list of potential risks you brainstormed, then determine how they will be monitored among you and your project team. Include what steps should be taken if a trigger occurs.
  • Create an action plan: How can you and your team reduce the odds of a risk happening or reduce its negative impact on the project? Who will be responsible for what? Ensure you and your team are all on-board with the action plan.

Step 6: Present the project plan to stakeholders and determine roles

While your project management plan kicked-off with a meeting with the project’s stakeholders, it should end with one too. This is because you’ll need to explain how your project plan addresses the stakeholder’s requirements and present your solutions to any potential risks or conflicts which may arise.

You’ll also need to use this meeting to ascertain roles among the stakeholders. What reports do they want to see, who will approve certain decisions, how would they like you to communicate with them, and how frequently? You might want to consider using a collaboration tool, which everyone can access to view the status of the project.

Another important role this final step in your project management plan plays is that it acts as an open discussion with those with a vested interest in the project, allowing you to tweak your plan should it require it, before the project officially kicks off.

What are the benefits of project management?

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As you can see, project management is a powerful business tool that covers many facets of a business and therefore has the ability to deliver several advantages to organizations of all sizes. Let’s delve into each of these benefits below.

Project management:

  • Gives you repeatable procedures, guidelines, and methods to help you manage the work and individuals involved in your projects
  • Can increase your chances of success by helping you deliver projects reliably, effectively, on time, and within budget
  • Facilitates you to solve problems more quickly and efficiently
  • Allows you to determine how your project fits in with your business strategy
  • Ensures the efficient use of your company’s own resources
  • Keeps you on schedule by breaking a large task down into smaller, more manageable deliverables
  • Encourages effective and consistent communication among those involved with the business
  • Satisfies the various needs and desires of company stakeholders
  • Aims to manage and mitigate risks and triggers
  • Helps you to gain an advantage over your competitors and increase your bottom line
  • Assists in boosting customer satisfaction, loyalty, and retention

Conclusion

Project management isn’t something that comes naturally to all of us, but it’s certainly a vital life skill to have under your belt no matter what industry you work in. From an organization’s point of view, project managers serve a crucial role within their company and are responsible for overseeing exciting projects that are necessary for their success. Large companies often have dedicated project managers, however, smaller businesses can meet project management needs with an experienced independent contractor. 

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