Project Management 101: The Complete Guide

Welcome to project management 101!

Offering an in-depth introduction to the basics of project management (PM) - from the definition of a project, to project management software and popular PM methodologies - this guide covers it all.

According to the Project Management Institute, project management is a growing field - one that will face a significant talent gap over the next 10 years. With growing demand and limitied supply, there has never been a better time to look at project management as a career.

Project management offers the opportunity for interesting work in a variety of industries. It's also a field with strong earnings potential.

Read through the entire guide to become a project management master, or click any of the links below to jump directly to each topic.

What is a project?

What is project management?

Project management software

Project management tools

Role of the project manager

Project management methodologies

Stages of project management

Benefits of project management

What is a Project?

Defining a project sounds deceptively simple. Project is a word we all know. However, if asked for the definition you might find yourself faltering.

So, what is a project? This is the definition provided by a quick Google search.

noun
/ˈpräˌjekt/
1. an individual or collaborative enterprise that is carefully planned and designed to achieve a particular aim.

This definition is fairly broad, which actually makes a lot of sense.

Think about the projects you've completed or even just heard about, and you'll quickly realize that project is a blanket term. It applies to a huge variety of activities:

  • School assignments
  • Asset maintenance
  • Home improvement
  • Personal learning goals
  • Professional initiatives
  • Construction
  • And so much more!

Here’s another definition - this time from the Project Management Institute (PMI).

"[W]hat is a project? It's a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique, product, service, or result. ...it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources.”

This definition, though different from the first, offers a more practical perspective. It provides a set of criteria by which you can decide if something is a project or not.

To be a project, there must be a concrete deliverable and a clear end point. Keep in mind that the deliverable can take many forms - a product, service, or other tangible result.

Projects are planned, temporary, and aimed at achieving a particular goal.

As you move through this guide, keep this definition in mind - as it helps to shape each of the following topics. Having defined a project, we'll move on to project management.

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What is Project Management?

The definintion of project management changes depending on who you ask.

Projects that require some form of management are part of most everyone's professional life. So, as with projects themselves, the defintion of project management can be quite broad.

Here's the definition of project management, according to the PMI:

Project management... is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.”

That sounds a little complex, so let’s take it back to the definition of a project. In the last section, we defined project as a temporary venture that requires planning and an end goal.

All projects, no matter their size and scope, come with a set of questions:

  • What do you want to achieve?
  • What is the desired deadline?
  • What is the expected deadline?
  • What defines project success?
  • What are our milestones along the way?
  • How much will the project cost?
  • What resources are necessary?
  • Who are the major stakeholders?

Project management is the process by which these questions are answered and addressed.

Though project management has been around for hundreds of years - the Pyramids of Giza being one of the earliest known records - it didn’t emerge as a professional discipline until the 1950’s.

Early pioneers of modern project management include Frederick Taylor (the inventor of Taylorism) and Henry Gantt - best known to PM professionals as the inventor of the Gantt chart.

To explore the history of project management further, check out this illustrated timeline.

As time has passed, professional project management has become increasingly codified. There are multiple, well-documented methodologies, entire bodies of work, and tests one can take to become a certified PM professional.

However, digital technologies like software and cloud computing have expanded and enhanced project management on a foundational level. These technologies are the future of the field.

Where project management once fell to a single person, technology has democratized the practice. With software, you no longer need a certification to manage projects successfully.

For smaller teams, software opens up the potential for self-serve project management. For larger teams, it allows for open access to data and effective remote communication. No matter the size of the team, project management software helps PMs keep their projects organized and moving forward.

The next section will cover project management software in depth.

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Project Management Software

Centralization is often the main draw of project management software.

Gathering your documents, data, and team members in one place enables a higher level of clarity and transparency - one that's difficult to replicate through analog methods.

Despite this central theme, no two project management softwares are the same.

Each has a different approach and feature set. Some are geared towards specific industries, while others offer a more general value proposition.

This chapter covers common PM software features, as well as questions to ask when considering implementing software in your organization. It also includes a step-by-step guide on how to find the right project management software for you.

Common project management software features

A good project management software enables teams to outline projects, assign tasks, monitor progress, ask questions, and give feedback - all within the platform itself.

By opening direct lines of communication between team members, software eliminates time-consuming tasks like searching for documents or scrolling through email.

Every platform offers different features, but the following are some of the most common.

Project dashboards
Dashboards offer a real-time overview of a project's status. This feature enables PMs and other users to see updates on project resources, budget, outstanding issues, and overall completion.

Planning tools
Planning tools take many forms, but visual timelines, digital calendars, timecard tracking, Gantt charts, and card-based organization tools are some of the most popular.

Task management
Task management tools allow users to assign tasks remotely and apply a status - for example: not started, in progress, complete. Many tools allow users to tag team members for questions or status updates.

Customizable workflows
Offering automated consistency, workflows are particularly useful for projects with repetitive tasks. Many platforms offer options for workflow customization, making it easy to adjust with each new project.

Collaboration tools
Any tool that helps teams work together more effectively could be considered a collaboration tool. Collaborative documents are one of the more popular tools, with functionality like simple sharing, comments, and shared editing.

Mobile capability
With the rise of remote work, mobile capability has become increasingly important. Accessing project data, documents, and tasks from anywhere are non-negotiable for remote teams. Even for teams who aren’t remote, mobile capability is a nice-to-have.

Reports
Reports are essentially a long form version of what you might see in the project dashboard. With a project management software generating budget, progress, and resource reports, PMs can save time and stay organized.

Budget and resource management
Budget and resource management tools give PMs a better understanding of spending trends and available resources. With this knowledge, PMs can allocate budget and resources more strategically.

Is project management software right for my company?

Implementing project management software is not without challenges. It requires research, buy-in from the team, and a solid business case.

That said, there is huge potential for increased productivity and improved project quality.

One way to answer the question - is project management right for my company - is to first answer a series of smaller questions. The good news is that most of these questions have a yes or no answer.

If you answer yes to only one, then software may not be necessary. However, if you answer yes to two or more - project management software could be an effective solution.

Is vital information siloed across teams?

Information silos is a jargony phrase that essentially means information is not being shared between teams. Silos crop up for a variety of reasons - personnel change, poor communication procedures, etc.

No matter the reason, silos slow down work for everyone and can be detrimental to project progress. Project management software helps to break down information silos by putting all project data in the same place - increasing transparency for everyone.

Does your team experience frequent communication breakdowns?

Communication breakdowns can be detrimental to project planning and execution - causing delays, misaligned expectations, and even conflicts. PM software offers the same fix for communication issues as it does for information silos - the ability to keep everything in one place.

Historically, projects have relied on phone and email as the primary channels for communication. Though both have their place, both also have their issues.

Phone calls don’t provide a way to recall information after the fact, and it’s often difficult to reach the party you need. Emails do allow for review after the fact, but can be difficult to track. Most people's inboxes are overflowing, and sometimes emails just get lost.


Project management software offers a way to put all project communication in one place, and even tie communication to a specific task or stage.

Do teams consistently miss deadlines?

Missed deadlines are self-explanatory and often avoidable - it goes without saying that too many missed deadlines can cause serious issues.

Project management software, specifically visual timelines and task management features, provide clarity on deadlines and task dependencies. FYI - Dependencies are tasks that can’t be started until the prior task is complete.

Does everyone understand their role and responsibilities?

Unclear expectations are problematic no matter your field, but in project management clear roles and responsibilities are key. Project success depends on each team member fulfilling their responsibilities effectively and on time.

Project management software provides a level of transparency that’s difficult to achieve with a spreadsheet. Most platforms enable PMs to assign work within the software and then monitor progress in real-time.

If a team member has questions, they can check out historical documentation or comment within the platform asking for clarification.

Is team morale low?

Team morale is a fairly nebulous metric, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important.

When the answer is ‘yes’ to any of the questions above, team morale can suffer. Teams who are frustrated or unhappy with their work are less productive than their satisfied counterparts.

Project management software can boost team morale by streamlining daily processes, as well as clarifying timelines and responsibilities.

Transparency also plays a role here. Complex, long-term projects can sometimes be disheartening - team members feel they have been working nonstop, but haven’t yet seen big results.

With project management software, updates on project progress are available to all. Individuals can check out what’s going on in other teams, and watch as the project progresses - even if their own tasks feel slow and cumbersome.

The more information and clarity everyone has, the better people feel. Project management software is a great way to provide that at scale.

Choosing the right project management software

Just as all projects are different, so are all project management softwares. Though there is some overlap, different platforms offer different features - so it’s worth it to explore your options.

Consider project type, tasks, and requirements

When deciding which platform is right for you, first consider what kind of projects you do most often. Of course there will be some variation, but approach the situation empirically and you’re likely to find a pattern.

Make a list of projects you’ve completed. Then make a second list outlining the tasks and requirements for each. Bonus points if you have access to past project records and can include those as well.

Moving through this exercise, you’ll start to notice patterns and overlap. By the end, you should have a better idea of your most common project requirements.

Make a features wishlist

Use your work in step one to create a list of must-have features.

Create this list before exploring specific options. It'll be easier to eliminate platforms that aren’t the right fit and create a short list of top contenders.

It’s unlikely that any platform will have everything you want. To make the decision easier, split your features wishlist into need-to-have vs. nice-to-have.

Give yourself a little flexibility by focusing on non-negotiables first. Then, use your nice-to-have features as a potential tie breaker.

Identify and address implementation barriers

When implementing new technology, it's crucial to address potential roadblocks and create internal advocates.

Fellow employees can become barriers for many reasons: budget, lack of understanding, desire to be “in the loop”, and more.

Brush up on your soft skills and set meetings with key individuals affected by the software roll out. By meeting with everyone individually, you can tailor your pitch, listen to feedback, and address concerns proactively.

Research and evaluate your options

Now comes the fun part. You know what you need and you’ve laid the groundwork. It’s time to start exploring specific software options.

When making your evaluations be sure to consider features, cost, usability, ease of implementation, and level of support.

That last one - support - might be surprising, but no one knows a product like the company who made it. Having access to resources and live support will help your team onboard effectively and quickly resolve any issues.

Once you’ve narrowed it down to your top three options, it’s time to take them for a spin.

Test drive your top three

Just like you wouldn’t buy a car without taking it for a test drive - you shouldn’t buy software without trying it first. A software trial will help you:

  • Get a first-hand feel for usability
  • Involve your team (which can encourage valuable feedback)
  • Test key features for efficacy
  • Gather hard evidence on how software might affect your process

Software should be an investment. If you don’t think you’ll see a return - increased productivity, better project outcomes, etc - then you shouldn’t move forward. A hands-on trial gives you a better idea of which platform will yield the best results.

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Project Management Tools

From real-time communication, to a shared knowledge base - project management tools take many forms.

We've already covered one of the most popular and useful project management tools: software. However, not all projects need such robust features.

Ultimately, the tools you need depends on the size, scope, and complexity of your project. We cover some of the options below. Breaking it down by goal, we'll explore which tools work best to achieve each objective.

GoalReal-time communication
ToolSlack, Google chat, etc.
Why you need itReal-time communication is one of the best ways to monitor progress, while identifying and resolving issues. Email still has its place, but chat apps make communication simple and quick.
GoalShared knowledge base
ToolDropbox and Google Drive
Why you need itA shared knowledge base helps eliminate information bottlenecks. When everyone can access the information they need - whether it be the project charter, historical documentation, or budgetary guidelines - it’s easier to get work done independently.
GoalSimple file sharing
ToolDropbox, G Suite, Hightail, Dropmark, etc
Why you need itSimple file sharing allows teams to work collaboratively. With tools like Google Docs, teams can write and edit within the same document at the same time. Many file sharing tools are the same as for a shared knowledge base, which is actually pretty convenient.

GoalAll of the above
ToolProject management software
Why you need itProject management software puts all the functionality you want - communication, file sharing, knowledge base, and more - in one place.

Smaller projects with less complexity may not need a project management platform. However, for projects that involve large teams, many moving parts, and long timelines - project management software can make a significant positive impact.

Project management tools - though they offer many potential benefits - are only as effective as the people who use them. This is where the role of the project manager (PM) becomes even more important.

A good PM not only knows how to use project management tools effectively, but can encourage and teach others to do the same.

We'll cover the role of the project manager in the next section.

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Role of the Project Manager

Project managers are responsible for overseeing projects from inception to completion. According to the Project Management Institute:

“Project managers are change agents: they make project goals their own and use their skills and expertise to inspire a sense of shared purpose within the project team.”

Put simply, project managers are team leaders.

Many industries do employ people with the title Project Manager. However, in some industries, the same responsibilities fall on the foreman or lead contractor.

No matter the title, a project manager's responsibilities include a mix of both hard and soft skills.

Successful project managers are detail-oriented, highly organized, and motivated to produce excellent results.

A good project manager must be able to create plans, budgets, and timelines.

They must also be empathetic, good at managing expectations, and willing to really listen to team members and other stakeholders.

Ultimately, project managers guide and support teams through each phase of a project: troubleshooting issues, resolving conflict, and keeping everyone on track.

A project manager's responsibilities include:

  • Developing a roadmap and timeline for project tasks
  • Identifying and procuring necessary resources
  • Building and maintaining effective teams
  • Setting project milestones and checking in regularly
  • Identifying risks and troubleshooting issues
  • Setting a budget and monitoring project spend
  • Ensuring that project goals are accomplished

All told, a project manager’s day-to-day is defined by three main activities.

Communication

project management communication

Facilitating effective communication is one of a project manager's most important jobs.

PMs not only communicate within their project team, but also with important external stakeholders.

Communication can take the form of daily stand-up meetings, calls, emails, or more involved strategy meetings. No matter the method, projects can succeed or fail based on the quality of communication.

Between team members, communication usually involves troubleshooting, quick check-ins, and general consultation about project tasks.

For external stakeholders, communication can involve status updates, negotiating for more time or resources, and ensuring that the project is still aligned with company goals.

Setting goals and monitoring progress

project management communication

This is the most visible component of a project manager’s day-to-day.

Goal setting affects every member of the team in different ways. Supporting consistent progress on these goals helps ensure a project is completed on time and up to expectation.

PMs need to set goals for a number of different things - the most significant being project milestones and budgets.

Monitoring progress includes daily or weekly check-ins, reviewing invoices and requests for funds, and updating organizational tools like Gantt charts or project dashboards.

Identifying and resolving issues plays a role here as well. Achieving goals sometimes means mitigating or removing obstacles - a task which often falls to the PM.

Team building and managementproject management communication

Team building and management is less visible than communication and goal setting. However, it is just as important (if not more so) when it comes to executing projects successfully.

Project managers must build out project teams and decide how to divide responsibilities.

They must also ensure their team is aligned on expectations, able to communicate effectively, and willing to work cohesively towards a shared goal. This is where soft skills are especially important.

Team management includes necessary (though slightly boring) activities like timesheet tracking and setting schedules, as well as fun events like morale outings and team building activities.

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Project Management Methodologies

Project management methodologies offer PMs and teams a foundation and set of principles on which to base their project plan.

project management methodologies infographic - waterfall, critical path, scrum, kanban

There is a surprisingly wide range of project management methodologies, each with its own requirements and approach. Many of the most popular methodologies fall under two main families: Traditional and Agile.

This chapter explores the differences between Traditional and Agile: covering four specific methodologies - two from each family.

Traditional Project Management Methodologies

Traditional methodologies follow a linear approach. Teams start at the beginning, proceed sequentially through project tasks, and end once all tasks are complete.

If that seems straightforward, it’s because it is. Traditional methodologies are among the easiest to implement - their simplicity a definitive advantage.

The downside is that they are easily disrupted by change. Because the focus is on sequential planning, unexpected variables can have a significant negative impact.

That’s why traditional methodologies are recommended for projects that follow the same pattern every time and have a fully defined final product - construction and maintenance projects both being good examples.

waterfall project management methodology

The Waterfall Method

As a linear project management approach, waterfall dictates that teams must:

  • Identify the tasks necessary to complete a project
  • Sequence them appropriately
  • Work on each task in order

To move onto the next task, the task prior must be complete. This means teams must spend more time at the beginning identifying and understanding project requirements. Rushing this step can derail a waterfall project.

One of the oldest and most straightforward project management methodologies, Waterfall has both up and downsides.

Simplicity and ease of implementation are the big updsides. The downside is that - because Waterfall is so linear - changes in stakeholder requirements can cause serious disruptions to project scope and sequencing.

Straightforward but not flexible, Waterfall is most effective in industries such as construction or manufacturing.

When the project is a physical structure or item, it makes perfect sense to proceed sequentially. You can’t start building walls, without first laying the foundation.

Waterfall’s rigid nature also works well with projects that are replicated frequently. Once you’ve found a sequence that works, you can apply it successfully to all future projects requiring the same outcome.

critical path method project management

Critical Path Method (CPM)

CPM is a powerful and involved methodology based on the idea of tasks and dependencies. A dependency is a task that cannot be completed until a prior task is done.

Customer approval is one of the most common project dependencies. For example, in many projects, the client must approve design mock-ups before teams can start working. Without approval, the project can't move forward.

The crux of CPM is mapping out project tasks, identifying dependencies, and then creating a visual representation (oftentimes a flow chart) that illustrates task sequences in relation to their dependencies.

The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) defines the 'critical path' as, “the sequence of scheduled activities that determines the duration of the project.” In other words:

The critical path is the sequence of dependent tasks that will take the longest to complete.

CPM helps project managers determine which tasks are most important, and which will require the most time and resources. Priority is given to critical path tasks, while non-critical work takes the back burner.

CPM is more complex than Waterfall, but it does have several distinct advantages. Using CPM, project managers can:

  • Identify priority tasks
  • Reveal unexpected risks
  • Reduce project timelines with better prioritization
  • Provide their team a visual representation of project flow

Agile Project Management Methodologies

Where traditional methodologies emphasize detailed project plans and linear progression - the Agile family focuses on speed, flexibility, and iterative development.

Created in the early 2000s, Agile was intended (and is still mainly used) for software development. Agile is best described as a continuous cycle of planning, testing, integration, and development.

Though more flexible than traditional methodologies, Agile does follow four basic values:

  • Value people over processes and tools
  • Create working prototypes rather than excessive documentation
  • Respond to change rather than following a plan
  • Prioritize customer collaboration over contracts

Agile has many well-documented benefits: increased productivity, fewer meetings, and less redundant planning. Many also argue that Agile’s emphasis on collaboration produces higher quality products that are more in line with customer needs.

There are many frameworks within the Agile family, but here we’ll cover two of the most popular: Scrum and Kanban.

Scrum

Scrum is one of the most popular Agile frameworks, so much so that the terms are often used interchangeably.

Though they have much in common, Agile is closer to a philosophy - whereas Scrum is a framework for action.

There are three primary roles in a Scrum project: Product Owner, Scrum Master, and Development Team. Though all team members are unified by the shared purpose of creating value through the product, different roles carry different responsibilities.

Product Owners approach projects with the customer and other external stakeholders in mind. They help manage stakeholder expectations, define and communicate project goals, and gather the necessary resources for product development.

In contrast to the Product Owner’s cross-collaborative role, the Scrum Master focuses solely on the management and operation of the development team. The Scrum Master motivates, educates, and encourages - while also working actively to remove obstacles and minimize distractions.

Sprint cycles are the central component of scrum development.

Structured, but not rigid, sprint cycles consist of planning, daily tasks, standup, review, and retrospective. Standup is a brief meeting, often held daily, in which team members summarize what they did yesterday and what they will do today.

In the sprint review, each team demonstrates successfully completed work. In contrast, the retrospective acts as an opportunity to discuss issues and identify areas for improvement.

Kanban

Kanban has two key characteristics: real-time communication of work capacity and full transparency.

Kanban is a highly visual, card-based system. Each card represents a task to be completed, and is moved across the board as progress is made.

Kanban cards should be detailed, including what the task entails, who is responsible, and best estimations for completion.

Since everyone on a project team can see the Kanban board, transparency is high. This transparency increases clarity, and lends itself to quick identification of dependencies and roadblocks.

Though Kanban and Scrum are both within the Agile family, they have some key differences. Kanban doesn’t have the same distinct roles as Scrum. It also progresses continually, giving teams the flexibility to release new development at their own dihttps://www.atlassian.com/agile/kanbanscretion.

Kanban has many benefits including increased planning flexibility, fewer bottlenecks, shortened time cycles, and a highly visual representation of project progress.

There are two other notable frameworks within the Agile family: Extreme Programming and Adaptive Project Framework. Check out this guide to learn more about both.

Process-based methods for project management

The frameworks below are process-focused business management methodologies. Though they are not officially for project management, they are often used in tandem with Traditional and Agile methods.

Integrated correctly, these methods can help teams produce higher quality products more efficiently.

Lean

Lean can be summarized as the doing-more-with-less approach. According to the Lean Enterprise Institute, Lean’s core principle is “maximiz[ing] customer value while minimizing waste.”

Implement Lean by first listing work or project processes in-depth. Identify waste, bottlenecks, and sources of delay. Then, work systematically to resolve these issues.

Lean's ultimate goal is to create a higher value product using less resources.

Six Sigma

Whereas most other processes rely on qualitative measures, Six Sigma is almost entirely quantitative - employing statistical analysis to improve organizational performance.

The primary goal of Six Sigma is to achieve these quality increases by reducing process variation. Reduced process variation means that teams can minimize product defects, improve overall quality, and increase profits.

With quality improvement at it's core, work processes within Six Sigma must consistently be defined, analyzed, and improved.

Lean Six Sigma

The American Society for Quality defines Lean Six Sigma as “a fact-based, data driven philosophy of improvement that values defect prevention over defect detection.”

Though Lean and Six Sigma have a shared end goal - continual improvement and greater value for the customer - they differ in their approach. Lean emphasizes minimizing waste, while Six Sigma focuses on reducing variation.

If implementing Lean Six Sigma is your goal, it’s often easier to start with Lean and then integrate the heavy statistical modeling of Six Sigma.

Choosing a project management methodology

Project management is not one size fits all. Different projects require different methodologies, and it can be difficult for a PM - especially one with less experience - to decide which approach is most suitable.

Some project managers take a strict, codified approach to their projects. They pick a methodology and stick to it.

However, many PMs are more flexible, applying a varied approach to each unique project.

As projects differ in size, complexity, and available resources, so do their management requirements.

For many, the best project management approach is one heavily steeped in the context of the project itself.

Diana and Stephen Burgan of the PMI, crafted a project classification system intended to help PMs decide which methodology best fits their project. Their system asks a series of questions meant to clarify project requirements:

  • What industry does your company operate in?
  • What stage is the product?
  • What is important to the strategic goals of the organization?
  • Is the project plan-driven or change-driven?
  • What are the related project activities that produce project deliverables?
  • How will the project phases work together?
  • Which product phases are in the five project management processes?
  • How big (or important) is the project?

Answers to these questions in hand, PMs should have a better idea of which methodology will be most effective for their project.

To read more about this approach, be sure to check out the full paper.

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Stages of Project Management

stages of project management

According to the Project Management Institute's (PMI) guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), there are five project management stages: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring, and closing.

Understanding these phases will give you a top level overview of how most projects are organized, regardless of the methodology used.

We'll cover the basics of each stage below.

Initiating

Initiation is the pre-planning phase, where the project is validated and defined at the highest level.

Depending on the industry, initiation activities include creating a project charter, gathering requirements, and conducting a feasibility study.

The main questions during the initiation stage are:

  • Why is this project necessary?
  • What is the end goal?

Building and defending a business case is a big part of the initation stage. If you're having trouble answering either of these questions, you may need to take a closer look at what prompted the project and if it's really worth the time and resources.

Planning

Planning is where your project really begins to take shape.

In the initiation stage you answered the question: What is our end goal? The planning stage answers the question: How will we achieve that goal?

According to project-management.com:

“A project management plan is developed comprehensively of individual plans for - cost, scope, duration, quality, communication, risk, and resources.”

Essentially, a project manager must consider each part of a project and then develop a roadmap for how that part will play out.

During planning, it’s also important to identify a baseline and develop clear metrics for success. Otherwise, there’s no real way to know if a project is on track.

There are a variety of documents a PM might produce during this phase.

DocumentPurpose
Scope statementDefines goals, deliverables, and significant milestones.
Work breakdown schedule (WBS)A visual representation of the work that needs to be done. An effective WBS illustrates a hierarchy of work, and ties specific deliverables to the overall project scope.
Gantt chartA visual project timeline
Communication planA schedule of when and how to communicate with project team members, as well as internal and external stakeholders.
Risk management planA best attempt to identify, address, and mitigate potential project risks (inaccurate cost estimates, shifting requirements, insufficient resources, delays, etc.)

Once planning is complete and your documents are in order, it's time to move on to project execution.

Executing

Executing and the next stage, monitoring, are defined by the PMBOK as seperate stages. However, they often occur simultaneously - so keep that in mind moving forward.

project execution checklist

Execution is when all the groundwork and planning comes to fruition. Teams, tasks, and deliverables are all developed during the execution stage.

For many, the execution stage is both gratifying and frustrating.

Gratifying because work has started and the project is moving forward. Frustrating because even the best laid plans can’t account for everything. Execution is when latent issues tend to surface.

Most PM’s begin this phase with a kick-off meeting, in which teams are given the full project overview, briefed on end goals, and assigned individual tasks. After that first meeting, it's important to schedule regular check-ins to stay ahead of issues and keep everyone on the same page.

Monitoring

Monitoring, though considered a separate stage, occurs in tandem with execution. Through monitoring, PMs can find out if a project is following its original roadmap and timeline.

Most PMs use key performance indicators (KPIs) to track different aspects of project progress.

A good KPI can be measured, acted on, and easily understood. We'll cover three of the most basic KPIs below, but there are plenty more. Explore other important project KPI’s here.

Planned valuePlanned value (PV), also known as the Budgeted Cost of Work Scheduled (BCWS), reflects the estimated costs of planned and scheduled work to date. This metric helps PMs determine how the budget is faring when compared to the project timeline.
Actual costActual Cost (AC) acts as the comparison point for Planned Value. Also known as the Actual Cost of Work Performed (ACWP), actual cost reflects how much budget you’ve spent so far. AC should include all project expenses to date, including salaries, resources, and any extraneous project costs.
Earned valueEarned value (EV) reflects the percentage of actual completion with reference to budget spent. Keep in mind actual completion is often quite different than planned completion. EV is a monetary value that can be calculated using this formula:

(% of actual completion) x (budget at completion) = earned value

Closing

Even after the project's complete, there are still a few to-do items.

The post-mortem meeting is one of the most important project closure activities. In this meeting, the project team and PM evaluate the final product and team performance.

The goal of the post mortem meeting is to identify what went well and what could have gone better.

After the post-mortem, the project is usually transferred to another team who will monitor and maintain the project in it’s completed stage.

Using project records and insights from the post-mortem, the PM will often create a post project punchlist. This list covers anything that wasn’t completed during the project. Ideally, each item will be delegated to team members for completion.

Other closing activities include gathering all documentation, recording a final budget, and creating a full project report. The PM should also designate a storage space for all documentation, in case someone needs to access records in the future.

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Benefits of Effective Project Management

Project management can feel a little complicated and there's no denying it can be a lot of work. However, the benefits of effective project management are well-documented.

Implementing even some of what you learned here can have significant positive impacts on your oganization and the quality of the product or services you produce.

Below we'll cover the top three benefits of project management, though there are many more.

Increase productivity and efficiency

Effective project management increases productivity and improves efficiency by providing:

  • Clear objectives to keep teams aligned, organized, and focused
  • Frameworks for communication and collaboration
  • A roadmap for using budget and resources

These three components help teams and individuals to understand project goals and their personal responsibilities. When everyone is on the same page, at both a macro and micro level, it’s easier to work cohesively.

Increased efficiency is especially important when it comes to budget and resources.

Overspending is a common problem for many projects - one that can negatively impact, and even derail a project. With a clear budget and consistent spending check-ins, teams can not only avoid overspending, but also find ways to use their budget as efficiently as possible.

Increased productivity and efficiency is often touted as the most significant benefit of project management. However, risk management is equally important - if not more so.

Manage project risk and mitigate issues more effectively

In the context of project management, risk refers to potential project issues - both expected and not. Every project involves some level of risk.

The key to effective risk management is not letting the inevitable issues derail your project.

Risk managment involves identifying and quanitfying potential project risks, and then working to mitigate and resolve as effectively as possible.

Once a risk is identified, it should be logged and assigned to a team member for resolution. The log is important, because it makes lingering issues visible. It also creates transparency about what’s being done to fix various project problems.

It’s also important to have a clear risk protocol in place. That way, when something comes up, all team members know exactly what to do. With the right risk management plan, teams can feel confident that any issues they experience will be addressed.

Produce better outcomes for increased customer satisfaction

Not every project has a customer facing outcome, but many do. In a competitive market, customer satisfaction can make or break a company's future.

Better project outcomes graph

Effective project management helps increase customer satisfaction by producing significantly better outcomes and products.

Better products earn more market share, and more market share leads to higher revenue.

The stakes are even higher when a project is done on behalf of a client. The client's name is on the line. A project gone wrong is not only frustrating, but can negatively impact their business.

Completing a project on time and within the expected scope and budget leads to satisfied clients. More than that, a good relationship between the client and the project manager can lead to better outcomes and repeat business.

With all of this in mind, the positive potential of project management should be clear.

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