Project management is a process of applying various skills and activities needed to reach project goals.
To really understand this, we first have to agree upon what it is the definition of a project. If you search the internet, a project would be defined as a unique undertaking to achieve certain objectives. As it stands, many things in our lives could be and are in fact projects. Working on a new campaign, renovating your house, or even preparing lunch are all projects of sorts. They have a defined goal, budget, and timeframe to follow as well as a team or a dedicated person that is trying to achieve a satisfactory result.
All projects are limited by the three project constraints – budget, quality, and time constraint. Which guides how each project plan is executed and what the final result is. While the project goals can be categorized into 4 types:
Output – launching a new product.
Outcome – relocating teams into a new office building.
Benefit – reduced production costs.
Strategy – raising the company’s share price by X%.
Having all of this in mind, we arrive at a process called project management. This process aims to control all of the project variables and to deliver a satisfactory result for the outlined goals. It is usually one person, called a project manager that undertakes this mission. Their job is complex and requires various skills, like performing technical tasks, managing people, and having an overall good business awareness. It is a tough, but very important position to fill, as it allows the project team to focus on the work that has to be done and achieve the best results. While the manager is responsible for project planning and following the project plan.
The key difference between management and project management definitions is the fact that the project is a finite process.
While some are natural leaders and managers, it takes years to become really great at project planning and management. The role itself covers a lot of different project manager skills and requirements. Moreover, those requirements differ from field to field. This means you could be great in one industry and still have a lot to learn in another. Therefore, the best project managers are the ones that always keep learning and looking for new ways to help their teams perform.
When talking about the project manager’s role, it is important to mention the PMO – project management office. This is a department usually established in larger organizations that aims to define and control the management processes within that company. In such cases, the PMO helps the manager carry out their responsibilities and supports the management efforts.
The tools and best practices of project management can be quite different depending on the industry they are working in. However, most project managers carry the same responsibilities as the ones listed below:
A project manager’s job begins way before the actual project. And in most cases, it is the project managers that look for new opportunities and identify a need for a new project. While they are not the only ones that can do this, knowing the capabilities of their team and the business goals, helps them seek out more opportunities.
Usually, there are quite a few people involved in the decision on which project to take on – shareholders, analysts, team members, etc. However, a project manager plays a central role in this decision as it is up to them to present the business case and advocate for the need for a new undertaking.
Once the project is given the green light, the project manager has to develop and implement a project plan. This plan usually outlines the project team, deliverables, project schedule, project scope, and various other important details that help shape how the project will be executed. In the project planning phase, it is important to consider what will the team need and what issues they may face as the project begins.
There is no project without a team, thus a big part of the project manager’s responsibility is making sure they are ok. This includes task coordination and planning as well as various motivation techniques to keep up morale.
Another big part of the project manager’s responsibilities is monitoring the current status of the project. This means constantly monitoring progress against the initial project plan, solving issues, and eliminating risks to ensure timely delivery.
It is up to the project manager to ensure that the budget is not exceeded. By motivating the team, coordinating efforts, and anticipating any delays, they have to work and keep the budget in line. Or in case they feel necessary, negotiate a budget increase with the shareholders.
Lastly, it is the project manager that has to announce the end of the project. Whether it is due to reaching the goal, the deadline, or the budget that was laid out in the project plan, each project has to end at a certain time and it is the project manager that closes it up.
Project management is different from the other management techniques as each project has a finite ending. Instead of ongoing indefinitely, projects end after a certain time, and then a new venture is taken on and the project planning process begins again. Thus, this process happens in phases.
Most projects can be summed up into 5 project planning phases – approval, planning, execution, testing, and completion.
Now, depending on what project management techniques you choose, the order and the number of certain phases may differ. For example, if you are working in a Waterfall vs Agile environment, you will have a linear process as listed above. On the other hand, if you are working in an Agile project management environment, you will be repeating the planning, execution, and testing phases every few weeks.
While the order and the number of project planning phases differ from one method to another, what is done in each phase stays the same. Thus the explanation below focuses on those actions instead of any particular process order.
The very first project planning phase of the project is initiation and approval. A project manager or another person from the company has to recognize the need for the project and suggest that the company takes it on. To do so, they usually do some analysis and prepare a project charter that is then presented to the shareholders or decision-makers. The project charter lists out the project vision, goals, benefits, risks, and limitations, thus allowing to make an informed decision on moving forward. If the project gets approved, it can move on to the next stage. Otherwise, it can either be reconsidered later or completely dismissed.
The next project planning phase asks to write a project plan. As the project gets approved, the project manager has to take some time to prepare for its execution. Usually, in this part of the cycle, the project team is gathered, necessary resources are secured and anything else that the project may need is prepared. Depending on the project management methodology used, the project manager can also use a Gantt chart to plan out the project stages and tasks. While those working in an Agile environment gather the user requirements and prioritize them for the first iteration.
The project planning phase differs depending on the way the team is working, but usually at this stage, the manager has to write a project plan, define project objectives, and choose the tools like project management software.
As the project is planned and prepared, the project manager and team can move onto the execution stage. Here, the actual work begins as the team takes on the project tasks and starts producing results. In this stage, the team acts according to the project plan, while the project manager has to monitor progress, update the project schedule, solve issues and react to any changes in the market. This is the project phase where the most value is created. And at the same time, most mistakes can be made. Therefore, it is crucial to actively monitor what is happening and to correct mistakes, and ensure a successful project.
Depending on what project management method the team uses, the testing phase could come at the end of the project or every few weeks during the execution. Either way, it is very important for quality control and should be carried out responsibly. In effective projects, teams involve as many project stakeholders in the testing process as they can to ensure the final result matches all requirements.
In the case of waterfall projects, it sometimes happens that phase two is added to the project plan after testing. Thus, allowing to implement required changes and deliver a quality result.
Lastly, as the project goals are completed or in more unfortunate cases as the project deadline or budget is reached, there comes a time for the final stage – the end. Here, the team wraps up the final tasks and documentation before moving on to a new endeavor. And the project manager presents the final project results to the stakeholders and evaluates the success of the project.
Effective project planning efforts bring quite a few benefits to the company that implements them. Here is why you should try and uphold your project management standards:
Implementing effective project planning practices lets you have more certainty that the project will reach the desired results. You have more control, predictability, and focus to achieve what was described in the beginning.
Project management practices and especially employing a project manager allows you to ensure the project team is scheduled and used most effectively. By knowing the full situation, the manager can shift the project plan and get the team working most efficiently.
As the project manager manages all project processes, the team members can focus on what they do best – the actual work. This means they will be able to do more and with better quality compared to when they were distracted by management tasks and scope creep.
The project manager is a great buffer between the team and the stakeholders of the project. By knowing both worlds, they can bridge the gap and ensure the flow of communication throughout the project. Which results in happier stakeholders and a more relaxed team that can focus on executing the project plans.
Lastly, project planning practices bring in the opportunity for the employees to grow. Managers get the opportunity to find new ways for project scheduling and work breakdown structure, while the project team has more time on their hands to look for ways to do their job better. Which results in growth all around.
Managers use a variety of tools to make their efforts more effective and in some cases easier. Most of these tools are digital these days, allowing us to analyze and share information quicker. Here are the most common project management tools:
Whether it is a list or a Kanban board, all managers need a way to note down the project plans, give them descriptions, due dates, and assignments. Project tools like Teamhood allow doing this in a visual task board which makes tracking of progress easy for both – the manager and the team.
Workload management is used by managers to make sure no one on the team is over or underworked. It helps monitor the workload of all team members and reschedule assignments in the most effective manner. By noting down the team availability and tracking the current project plans, the project manager can find the best way to utilize all resources.
Various reports are a great help to quickly check how well the team is doing and which project plans should be prioritized. There is a variety of such reports to choose from and each project manager picks the ones the most relevant to their definition of a successful project.
Time tracking allows managers to get more insight into the project’s success and execution. They can better understand the length of each task, how it relates to the project plan and what effort they should be planning for in the future.
The Gantt chart is one of the oldest project management solutions allowing to layout project phases in a timeline view. In modern tools, managers can also easily divide those stages into tasks and subtasks, as well as define dependencies. Gantt chars are usually used to create a project plan and then monitor how the team executes it.
Portfolio management is great for those managers working on several projects in the same company. It allows to see the big picture as well as create a project plan for specific teams or products. Seeing the whole picture it becomes easier to prioritize which project plan is the most important and should be focused on at any moment.
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