The A to Z Guide to Project Management
Whether you’re brand new to project management or you’ve got years of project management experience under your belt, completing a project on time and within budget is not easy.
Each project is different and poses a distinct set of challenges. Irrespective of the type of project you’re working on, you probably face tight deadlines and high expectations.
There’s an old adage “You can’t learn to ride a bicycle at a seminar,” and it fits project management perfectly. Everything in project management is hands-on. Unlike other fields, you can’t find your way to success by making mistakes; experimentation will only get you slaughtered. You need to abide strictly to the principles to succeed. That’s where this guide will come in handy.
Table of Contents
- History of Project Management
- What is Project Management
- Why is Project Management Important
- Phases of Project Management
- Various Project Management Approaches
- Reasons for Project Failure
- Strategies to Streamline Project Management
- Types of Project Organizational Structure
- Project Management Knowledge Areas
- What is the Role of Project Manager
- Challenges with Project Management Tools
- Need for a Simple Project Management Tool
- 5 Essential Project Management Features
- Teams that Benefit from Project Management Software
This project management guide is useful for novices who were thrown in the deep end of project management without any formal training and also intermediate or experienced project managers who want to learn more about project management process and project management methodologies.
The brief history of project management
Project management has been around for as long as humans have existed–from the invention of the wheel to the construction of the Giza Pyramids, to the development of the device you’re reading this on. All these “projects” required planning, had specific people to oversee them, a sponsor, and people working on them. We just didn’t call them projects.
Project constraints such as scope and workload weren’t considered back then but there would have been budgets and timelines. The practice became more refined in the last 100 years with methodologies being developed, starting with Fredric Taylor’s The Principles of Scientific Management in 1911.
Henry Gantt introduced the eponymous Gantt charts in 1917. Toyota’s Taichii Ohno implemented the rudimentary form of Kanban and Lean in their manufacturing units in the 1950s. The Project Management Institute was formed in 1969. Over the years, as the nature of the market changed, newer methodologies like Agile were introduced that refined the project management process further.
What is project management?
Project management is the process of steering a project from the start through its lifecycle. The main objective of project management is to complete a project within the established goals of time, budget, and quality. Projects have life cycles since they aren’t intended to last forever.
A project management life cycle starts when the project is initiated and ends when the project is either completed or terminated in one way or another.
At the end of each phase, there is a decision point where stakeholders decide whether or not to complete the project or terminate it and cut losses.
Why is project management important?
According to a survey by the Project Management Institute (PMI), only 58% of organizations realize the actual importance of project management and how it allows them to effectively tackle the issues they face.
Apart from stimulating productivity, improving project transparency, and providing a clear vision to the team, project management can bring the following advantages to the table:
- Effective communication
- Efficient resource management
- Improved customer satisfaction
- Flexibility and higher risk tolerance
- Improved team morale
- Better quality of the output
- Retrospective learning
What are the phases of project management?
Project management phases are different tasks, behaviors, and skill sets that are essential to creating successful projects.
Listed below are the five major phases of the project management process:
The initiation phase marks the beginning of a project by determining high-level expectations like why a project is required, if it is feasible or not, and what is needed to complete the project.
Outputs of this phase include required stakeholder approvals to proceed to the next phase, documentation pertaining to project needs (business case), and rough estimates of time and resources required to complete the project (project charter), and an initial list of stakeholders.
In the planning phase, project managers detail the project scope, time frame, and risks. Completeness and continuity are the major components of a successful project plan.
Outputs of this phase include a detailed project plan, a communication plan (if there is no project plan), budget baseline, project scheduling, individual project goals, scope document, and updated stakeholder registry.
In the execution phase, the project team members are coordinated and guided through proper project communication to get the work done as explained in the approved project management plan.
Additionally, this phase also covers the proper allocation and management of other project resources like materials and budgets. Project deliverables are the output of the execution phase.
4. Monitoring and Control
The time, cost, and performance of the project are compared at every stage and necessary adjustments are made to the project activities, resources, and plan to keep things on the right track.
Outputs from this phase include project progress reports and other communications that ensure adherence to project plans and prevent larger milestones and deadline disruptions.
5. Closure or Completion
The process of finalizing the project, reviewing the project deliverables, and transitioning them to the business leaders is called the project closeout phase in a project management life cycle.
This stage offers time for both celebration and reflection. Outputs from this project management phase include approved project results and learnings that can be applied to similar projects in the future.
What are project management approaches?
Project management approaches offers a collection of processes, methods, and tools (Kanban Board) to manage project activities and accomplish project activities. They ensure consistency, simplify complexities, lower costs, and reduce risks. While there are a number of well-established project management approaches available.
Listed below are some of the most popular project management approaches:
- Phased approach in project management
- Lean project management
- Iterative and incremental project management
- Critical chain project management
- Product-based planning
- Process-based management
- Project production management
1. Phased approach in project management
A phased approach is the best choice for big and complex projects that need to be executed in stages due to external constraints. In this approach, each phase goes through all five process areas from initiation to closure. At the end of every phase, all the work is assessed and handed off to the next phase in a sequential way.
The phased approach is often referred to as a waterfall or traditional model. It is an ideal choice for small, well-defined projects. Ambiguities and risks involved rise up with the complexity and size of the project.
2. Lean project management
Lean project management is a data-driven approach that focuses on improving the process and eliminating waste through efficient use of resources (cost, time, and people). This project management approach covers detailed planning, visual-rich documentation, continuous analysis, and frequent process improvements.
A project is considered to be lean if it follows the basic lean principles. Deming Cycle (PDCA), Lean Six Sigma (DMEDI), Value Stream Mapping (VSM), and kanban methodology are some of the most popular lean project management approaches.
Most businesses lean towards value stream mapping as it offers them an accurate and detailed visualization of all steps in the project.
Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is a powerful, two-dimensional tool that documents and directs a lean transformation from a big-picture perspective. It not only helps businesses understand the total lead time but also shows individual lead time and cycle time and provides a clear picture of wastes that inhibit project flow.
By observing and understanding the visual flow of a project, organizations can eliminate the wastes of lean, reduce administrative processing time, and consistently meet project deadlines and objectives.
3. Iterative and incremental project management
The iterative and incremental approach is a change-driven project management methodology that was developed to handle change and reduce inherent risks. This project management methodology is a perfect choice for large-scale, multi-company projects with ambiguous requirements and a high degree of risk. It is often used for software development.
A wide range of project management approaches like Agile project management, Extreme project management, and more have evolved from the incremental and iterative approach.
4. Critical chain project management
Critical chain project management (CCPM) is used to plan and manage projects while allowing room for resource constraints (personnel, equipment, and more). It is based on the theory of constraints (TOC) which states that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
In CCPM, project delays are prevented by adding buffers to the inherent task and resource dependencies.
5. Product-based planning – PRINCE2 approach
Product-based planning is a structured project management approach that focuses on outputs and project deliverables (including intermediate products), unlike traditional approaches that focus on activities and tasks.
As there are far fewer deliverables than tasks, it is relatively easy to define and arrange them in a logical way. PRINCE2 methodology is the most common implementation of this approach.
6. Process-based project management
Process-based project management allows project managers to create, manage, and improve projects that align with the vision, mission, and core values of a business. All project activities and objectives are designed in such a way that they contribute towards achieving the most important organizational objectives.
Process-based project management includes six stages:
- Defining the processes
- Identifying process indicators
- Measuring performance
- Adjusting objectives
- Planning improvements
- Implementing improvements
OPM3 (Organizational Project Management Maturity Model) and CMMI (Capability Maturity Model Integration) are some of the most popular process-based project management maturity models.
7. Project production management
Project production management (PPM) is a strategic approach that applies theories and principles of operations science to better understand and optimize project delivery.
What makes PPM unique is the fact it uses actual data from project activities to predict limits and determine what can be genuinely achieved. It also helps in designing appropriate control mechanisms to buffer variability.
Common reasons for project failure
Any viable project is prone to failure due to one of the five reasons listed below:
- Resource deficiency – insufficient resources to complete the project.
- Inadequate time frame – having trouble completing the project on time.
- Unclear goals – lack of detailed documentation can lead to inappropriate results.
- Poorly managed stakeholder expectations – project scope changes that are not agreed upon by stakeholders causing varying views of quality, time, or budget.
- Inadequate risk management – failing to establish the risk associated with each project can cause your project to fail.
No one starts a project with the hope that it will fail, yet most projects fail when project managers disregard the need to streamline their project management techniques.
How to streamline project management – 12 steps
Projects are filled with a slew of details. In the race to deliver the project on time, it is possible to miss a few important details along the way. Especially when project management is handled manually, it is hard to note down every small detail of a project. It results in a heap of paperwork and spreadsheets where uncertainties thrive driving up the chance for failure.
While it is impossible to harness the chaos in project management overnight, there are a number of ways to streamline the project management process effectively.
By following the twelve best practices meticulously in their project lifecycle, even non-project managers can successfully streamline and complete their projects. You can also follow the project management checklist to maximize your project productivity.
Types of project management structures
One of the leading causes of project failure is the misalignment of project teams. They lack the guidance as the organizational structure influences the authority of the project manager.
Learn out how remote project management is done effectively and how project teams are aligned.
Project management structure can be defined as the official line of control and authority within project teams as well as the organization and they tell us how reporting relationships work.
Depending on the nature of the work and the project goals, teams are structured in three ways:
1. Functional Organizational Structure
It follows a hierarchical system where key decisions like budgeting, scheduling, and resource allocation lie with functional managers, who possess expertise in the same field, leaving the project manager with little to no authority.
Work is broken down into departmental units likes, sales, HR, admin. Responsibilities are predetermined and everyone knows who’s accountable. Team members get more skilled at what they’re doing. However, there are a few downsides to this structure:
- Work can get monotonous
- Cross-functional collaboration becomes poor
- Higher levels of bureaucracy
2. Projectized Organizational Structure
The projectized organizational structure puts the project manager completely in charge. The project manager has complete authority over the budget, staffing, and schedule. The project team comprises of members from across departments. At the end of the project, all team members are released to their respective functional departments.
Decisions get made faster as the project team has to navigate a lesser amount of bureaucracy. Communication becomes easier and more effective. Team members gain experience across a range of areas as they work on different types of projects.
When team members work on multiple projects, difficulties arise. There might be a clash of priorities between projects. The tight schedules and deadlines make the workplace stressful.
3. Matrix Organizational Structure
The matrix organizational structures combines the best of both worlds. Reporting relationships are set up in a matrix or a grid, with dual reporting relationships i.e. every team member reports to both the functional manager and the project manager. The functional manager reviews the work which helps in improving one’s skills. The project manager prioritizes and gives direction to the work.
This organizational structure facilitates sharing of the resources. It fosters better communication and teams act as integrated units. It’s one of the toughest structures to form because of the conflicting pulls on team members and resources. Since team members report to two managers, it can create unnecessary misunderstandings and conflicts.
Check out the key strategies for project team management.
10 knowledge areas of project management
The PMI, in its Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK), divides project management into 10 digestible areas. They coincide with the chronological phases of project management and are the core technical subject areas.
- Project integration management
- Project scope management
- Project time management
- Project cost management
- Project quality management
- Project human resource management
- Project communication management
- Project risk management
- Project procurement management
- Project stakeholder management
What is the role of a project manager?
Similar to a project passing through a variety of project management phases, a project manager needs to assume an array of roles with the people involved.
- decisional and
- management roles.
|Interpersonal Role||Informational Role||Decisional Role||Management Role|
|1. Work with a diverse range of professionals
2. Solve team disputes
3. Build positive relationships
4. Motivate team members
|1. Communicate with all stakeholders effectively
2. Keep people up-to-date
3. Organize team meetings frequently
4. Provide performance feedback
|1. Make a range of decisions at each stage
2. Stay clear and focused
3. Balance scope, time, and resources
4. Prevent scope creep and budget slippage
|1. Recruit and manage employees
2. Manage finances
3. Respond well to ambiguity
4. Adhere to business priorities
If most of the responsibilities listed above sound familiar, then you’re a project manager—even if your job title doesn’t say so. By applying some of the project management best practices, you can improve the efficiency of your team as a whole.
Challenges with most project management tools
There are dozens of project management tools and apps available, but most aren’t meeting the needs of SMBs and simple project management very well.
- Some of the available software options are very robust, so robust that they’re far more complicated than what the average user needs. With overly-complex project management tools, team members are required to spend far too much time learning the platform, which slows work on the projects themselves.
- On the other end of the spectrum, some tools are quite simple and easy to learn but don’t provide all the features necessary for successful project management. With too-simple platforms, your team ends up finding supplemental tools from various sources, creating a Frankenstein project management system that devours time and brainpower instead of making your project management process more simple.
Without strong features and great integrations, you don’t have the transparency you need on your projects. But with too many features and high learning curves, the platform isn’t utilized and you’re back where you started, searching for a simple project management solution.
You need simple project management that fits
No matter the size of your business or team, chances are you have projects to manage. Many organizations use spreadsheets to try and stay organized at work, but those can become cumbersome, and they’re often just piles of data no one is quite sure how to access or utilize. Maybe you have a physical ticketing system or endless digital folders with no unified picture of it all.
If you’re trying to manage projects more efficiently, you’ve probably looked into an assortment of project management processes and software programs. And you’re probably overwhelmed.
Where can you find a simple project management solution?
Most project management processes don’t fit small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) very well. Try googling “how to do project management.” You’ll likely end up down a rabbit hole of project management methodologies and strategies and far more information than you want when you just need to get the job done.
In project management, there are various phases of the project, each of which can be divided and subdivided into minutia so small you can’t remember what you were trying to manage start with. And there’s a place for all that. Some organizations are so large and their projects so complex that they need such granular views on their tasks.
Most SMBs, however, will be bogged down by that level of record-keeping. You don’t need to spend hours, days, or weeks forcing your processes into some else’s system. What you need is a project management software that can be customized to meet your needs.
But using technology that’s right for your business really can make your life easier. The key is finding a solution that fits your specific needs.
Features that makes project management easy
Simple project management tools come with the essential features you need without overwhelming your modules you don’t require. Their purpose is simple–to help you keep track of your work.
Here are the top 5 features that can simplify project management:
- Create task lists
- Get status updates
- Store files and documents
- Collaborate with others
- Simplify reporting
Teams that can benefit from project management
Today, all organizations expect their teams to deliver more results with fewer resources. These seemingly impossible expectations can not only be fulfilled but also be exceeded if they take a project management approach towards their work.
Some of the teams that would benefit hugely by implementing some of the best project management practices:
1. Marketing teams:
In marketing, there are a number of moving tasks, feedback loops, deliverables, content workflows, and due dates. With the amount of information involved, it is challenging to find the right file.
Processing all of these without putting a strain on the available resources while ensuring business growth is hard without a predictable marketing project management process.
See how marketing project management software can help marketing operations and manage creative teams better.
2. Customer support:
Good customer experience is the most important ingredient for an organization’s success. However, if the support team is preoccupied with existing chaos and juggling workload, they may not have enough time to focus on the customer.
Incorporating project management approaches can help your support team collaborate better, manage their workload, and communicate effectively with customers.
3. Product teams:
Once the product strategy is developed and stakeholder approval is received, product managers may need to track the number of details on a day-to-day basis and work along with a variety of teams.
Task management practices will help product managers translate strategy into discrete trackable tasks and communicate/collaborate with everyone effectively.
4. Event planners:
To bring an event together is no small feat. It takes a lot of teamwork, frequent budget check, strict deadline adherence, a little bit of luck, and a whole lot of responsibilities to host an event successfully. Missing a small detail can make things go wrong spectacularly.
By treating events like projects, event planners can simplify the process of coordinating tasks and people by visual project management to create an event that people will be talking about for years to come.
Now that you have put a lot of new information about project management into your brain, some of you may feel overwhelmed. Take a deep breath and look back on your own projects.
Everything you’ve learned today about project management is practical. So, if you’re working on a project, there’s a good chance that you are already using some of these concepts.
If not, take a few minutes and reflect on how you can use these things to make your project go as smoothly as possible. Tuning your project management skills will not only help you complete your projects on time and within budget, but will also contribute to your own career and your organization’s growth.