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What you need to know about project management

Last updated

2 March 2024

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Mary Mikhail

Projects built the modern world. Projects launch boats, create new software, and put rockets into space. A great project can propel a business to success and bring innovation to industries. The people who move these projects from ideation to execution are called project managers.

A project manager orchestrates the people, tasks, and resources necessary to complete a project while removing roadblocks and navigating change. They’re a guiding force within the professional landscape, using diverse skills and tools to help teams accomplish their tasks.

But what is project management? And how does it work? Let's look at the roles, processes, tools, and techniques used to manage projects from start to finish.

What is a project?

Before understanding project management, let’s define the concept of a project.

Projects are temporary initiatives that aim to achieve a specific objective. Within a business context, projects are often developed to introduce a new product or service to the market or to enhance an existing one.

Projects typically have a budget, defined goals, and allocated resources.

What is project management? 

Project management involves planning, organizing, and overseeing projects to completion. It can be a fairly complex job involving activities such as:

  • Setting goals

  • Defining tasks and roles

  • Allocating resources

  • Managing budgets and timelines

Project management teams must also understand the constraints of a project and any risks or roadblocks. There are many tools, methodologies, and techniques project managers can use.

Project management is an incredibly versatile process used in almost every industry, including construction, healthcare, tech, and education. From small startups to global corporations, organizations of all sizes can benefit from using project management techniques to manage and complete projects efficiently.

What is the value of project management?

Effective project management can streamline the process of completing a project, ensuring teams stay productive and focused on the right tasks while meeting deadlines. By carefully planning and monitoring a project, project management can also help ensure high-quality deliverables that meet the original scope. Project management plays an essential role in removing barriers and mitigating risks involved in bringing a project across the finish line.

Clear communication is another critical aspect of project management. Stakeholders, team members, and clients must all agree on a project's timeline, budget, and scope and have open communication channels and clear updates throughout a project's lifecycle. A project management team can help facilitate that communication, ensuring it's constructive, clear, and timely.

Project management teams also bring value to an organization after the completion of a project. They can help teams analyze what went well and what they could improve for future initiatives. Project management can help create a culture of continuous improvement within the organization and help ensure the success of future projects.

What's the difference between project management and program management?

Project management and program management share a lot of similarities, but there are key differences. The most significant difference involves the scope of what they manage.

Project management involves managing individual projects and goals, while program management oversees multiple interrelated initiatives to ensure they align with and achieve a bigger organizational goal.

For example, a project management team might oversee the launch of a marketing campaign for a new product. A program management team would handle the entire product launch, including the marketing campaigns, website development, and product manufacturing. The program management team would work towards ensuring the success of the product launch as a whole rather than any single aspect.

What are the core components of project management?

To successfully manage a project, project managers must have several critical components in place. These components help them understand what to expect from a project, what resources are available, and the timelines for completion.

The core components of a project vary depending on the industry, project type, and project management style, but they may include the following:

  • Project scope. This defines the objectives, deliverables, and requirements of a project. It tells the project manager what they need to deliver for a project.

  • Measures of success. The measures of success will help the project manager better understand a project's desired outcomes and help them coordinate their efforts toward achieving those measurements.

  • Project schedule. This provides the project manager with the timeline for a project, including when deliverables are due.

  • Resource management. Resources for a project may include personnel, financial resources, materials, and equipment. The project manager must know what resources are available to complete a project.

  • Risk management. Project managers must identify potential risks within a project and develop strategies to mitigate them.

  • Stakeholder management. Project managers should identify all stakeholders in a project, understand their involvement, solicit their input when needed, and keep them informed about a project.

  • Communication planning. Communication is one of the project manager's biggest tasks. They must keep all team members and stakeholders informed and ensure there are open communication channels throughout a project's lifecycle.

  • Change management. Change is inevitable, and project managers need to prepare for changes that might occur during a project. While they can't anticipate every change, they can work to minimize the disruption that changes cause and ensure a project stays aligned with the initial scope and organizational goals.

What are the five key steps or phases of project management?

There are different project management styles, but all of them involve five key phases:

  1. Initiation

  2. Planning

  3. Execution

  4. Monitoring

  5. Closing

1. Initiation

The first phase is where the project management team defines the purpose and potential benefits of the project alongside the stakeholders. The team determines if a project is feasible and create a blueprint that outlines the larger goals of the project. They also establish key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the success of the project.

2. Planning

During the planning stage, project management teams meticulously map out a project. Expanding on the larger goal, the project manager creates a detailed roadmap of how the team will get from start to finish.

They allocate resources and determine a timeline, including milestones. They also work with stakeholders to determine the project’s final scope and objectives.

3. Execution

This phase is when the project management plan is implemented. The project manager manages task assignments, creates workflows, and monitors the team's progress. They'll also ensure that everyone knows what they need to do and when their tasks are due.

The project manager can use various tools to help facilitate this stage of the process, including spreadsheets, Gantt charts, and specialized project management software.

4. Monitoring

In the monitoring phase, the project manager continues to track the project's progress and checks in with them during regular status meetings. They also look for bottlenecks or roadblocks and help the team address any issues that arise.

The project manager also closely monitors the team's budget, communicates with stakeholders, and reports on KPIs. Based on team and stakeholder feedback, the project manager may need to adjust the plan, such as changing timelines or increasing the budget, to ensure project success.

5. Closing

In this final stage, the project manager closes the project by handing the deliverables over to the stakeholders. The project's success is evaluated and the overall outcome noted. The project manager will also document any lessons learned during the project, which can help boost the performance and outcomes of future projects within the organization.

What are the most common project management methodologies?

Various project management methodologies are available to guide teams through planning, executing, and delivering projects. These approaches create a structured approach and can shape the way teams work together to achieve success.

Agile, Kanban, Lean, Waterfall, and Scrum are the most common project management methodologies.

Agile

Agile offers a flexible and adaptable approach to project management. Projects are broken down into smaller increments called sprints.

Teams work closely with stakeholders to assess priorities and project goals, making adjustments as needed between sprints to changing requirements. It's a favorite method for those in the tech industry.

Lean

This methodology focuses on eliminating waste and continuously improving processes to enhance efficiency.

Lean works to bring more value to the stakeholders by minimizing the steps, costs, and errors associated with finishing a project. The aim of this approach is to streamline workflows and optimize outcomes. It's heavily used within the manufacturing industry.

Kanban

Kanban methodology visualizes work on a board, dividing a project into stages represented by different columns. Tasks move through the columns via sticky notes or notecards (often digitally represented) as they progress from ideation to completion.

Kanban focuses on workflow optimization by maintaining a steady flow of tasks through a project’s pipeline.

Scrum

Scrum methodology, like Agile, works in cycles called sprints. These sprints last two to four weeks and are orchestrated by a Scrum Master. The Scrum Master also facilitates daily stand-up meetings, sprint reviews, and retrospective sessions where teams analyze the effectiveness of the sprint.

The Scrum methodology allows teams to self-organize but requires regular inspection and continuous improvement.

Waterfall

Waterfall methodology takes a linear approach to project management. There are distinct phases, such as design, testing, deployment, and maintenance, that flow in a cascading manner. One phase must be completed before the team can move on to the next.

This methodology is best suited for well-defined projects that aren't likely to change. It's the opposite of Agile, which is much more flexible.

Other methodologies to explore

While those listed above might be among the most common project management methodologies, it's not an exhaustive list. You might also want to consider:

  • Scrumban

  • Adaptive Project Framework

  • Critical Path Method

  • PRINCE2

  • Six Sigma

Each methodology will have its pros and cons depending on your industry, project, and scope.

An example of project management

A national retail chain wants to launch its new skincare app. Their experienced project manager employs an Agile methodology to plan, execute, and monitor the project.

The project manager will start by gathering information about the project’s objectives and identify the stakeholders. The team wants to launch an app that allows users to compare skincare products as its initial functionality. The team is assembled, including software development, product management, and appropriate cross-functional groups, such as marketing.

With the scope and team defined, the project manager can begin to define the project's constraints, including the budget and the timeline, and start the planning phase. The team will have six months to launch a beta version. The product manager will create a detailed plan, including project milestones and resource allocation.

Once the planning phase is complete, the execution phase begins. The project manager will regularly meet with team members and communicate with stakeholders regarding progress of the app's development. The project manager ensures the app is ready for deployment and reviews the final deliverable to determine if the project met the measures of success.

Finally, the project manager will document the project, highlighting any lessons learned and identifying areas for improvement in future app launches. Then, they can hand over the app and celebrate the team's achievements.

How to become a project manager

The project management career path is incredibly diverse because you'll find project managers in almost every industry. You might choose to be a project manager on a construction site, within the financial sector, for a big tech company, or even in healthcare or the arts.

But how does someone become a project manager? There are a few paths to consider.

Earning your degree

Acquiring a degree in project management or business administration can be an excellent way to enter the field of project management. These degree programs provide essential training and courses on various management styles and teach you essential human resource skills for effective project management.

Pursuing a master's degree in project management may also be mandatory for specific industries, which can further enhance your career prospects.

Project management certification

If you're not interested in obtaining an undergraduate project management degree, you may pursue a project management certification instead. These condensed courses, which can last a few days or a few years, provide in-depth instruction on project management principles.

Employers who wish to upskill their workforce may be willing to cover the cost of this training, especially if the employee is already contributing to project management activities.

Work experience

A lot of people become project managers almost by accident. They may offer to help manage a project, gradually gaining experience and developing skills in project management along the way. This acquired experience can lead to discovering a new career path as a project manager.

If you've been working on projects and are interested in project management, ask if you can take on more leadership responsibility and start building your project management portfolio. Many opportunities are available within a project management team that can help you learn the ropes and develop your project management skills.

What other opportunities are there on a project management team?

Project managers rarely work alone. Project management teams are made up of various roles, which may include:

  • Assistant project managers. This role is usually second-in-command to the project manager. The assistant project manager might help coordinate certain tasks and take on administrative duties, such as scheduling meetings or taking notes.

  • Senior project managers. Senior project managers typically oversee complex projects and manage multiple projects simultaneously.

  • Team leaders. Team leaders oversee task delegation for a smaller group within a project and act as a mentors for the team. They also report the team's progress to the project manager.

  • Project schedulers. Schedulers assist project managers in creating a timeline and ensuring timely task completion. These roles are most common in the construction industry.

  • Resource manager. The resource manager is responsible for allocating and managing resources for a project, including human resources, to ensure resources are optimized and the necessary resources are available for the tasks involved.

In summary

Effective project management can be the catalyst for a successful project. Successfully orchestrating resources, timelines, and teams is an art and a science. A skilled project manager can help remove obstacles and guide a project to the best possible outcome.

Using a variety of technology, knowledge of human nature, and extraordinary interpersonal skills, project managers are a linchpin in the modern business environment.

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