To define project management, one must define a project. Anything that has a start, a finish and produces a deliverable is a project. Project management, therefore, is the method by which a project is planned, monitored, controlled and reported on—in other words, managed.
That’s a lot. In fact, project management is an umbrella term that covers a number of related disciplines, such as planning, scheduling, task management, resource management, risk management and much more.
The person who is responsible for overseeing a project is the project manager. They develop a plan that meets the stakeholders’ expectations and assembles a project team. The project manager then monitors and controls the execution of the project until a quality deliverable is produced. This is often done with the aid of project management software.
Because projects have a start, a middle and an end, they all go through a series of phases. If you can grasp these five phases, then you’ll have a good grip on what project management is all about.
The next phase is where you plan the work by breaking it down into smaller chunks and estimating how long each will take. The output from this is your project plan, often visualized on a Gantt chart, which represents the order of tasks and how they are interdependent. This gives you a roadmap for the work until the project reaches its conclusion.
This is the starting phase of your project. You develop the idea and put together the Project Charter, a document that sets out exactly what the project is going to deliver and how you are going to get there. (Download a free Project Charter template and save yourself some time). This stage of the project culminates in a project kickoff meeting, where you bring together the team, stakeholders and relevant other parties to define the project goals, schedule and processes like how to communicate and the chain of communication.
This is where the bulk of the work happens. Now that you have a plan, you can execute that plan. Along the way you’ll monitor and control the work to make sure that you stay on track in terms of budget, schedule and quality performance. You’ll also work to identify and mitigate risks, deal with problems and incorporate any changes. The bulk of the work of a project manager happens in this phase.
Project work needs to be closed down carefully to make the most of what was achieved and to ensure that any lessons learned are passed onto teams who will benefit. In this phase you’ll get user acceptance for the work that was completed, finish off any final paperwork and reports and hand any deliverables over to a different team, such as the operations management team.
To save you from reinventing the wheel, over the years people have come up with some tried-and-tested ways of getting project work done. Here are some common approaches to project management:
The waterfall model is a linear approach to delivering work. You come up with the requirements, put the design together, build the solution, test and implement it and then move it into a maintenance stage.
Good for: projects where the requirements are clear or little change is expected along the way.
Avoid when: you don’t really know how you are going to get to the end result and the requirements aren’t clear.
Agile is often used in software projects but it’s becoming more common on other types of projects, like marketing. It involves iterative working in short bursts called “sprints.” The work is time-boxed and the team gets as much done as they realistically can before moving to the next set of requirements.
Good for: projects where you want to incorporate quick wins and build iteratively.
Avoid when: you work in a traditional environment and the change to agile methods hasn’t yet been completed or even understood.
Lean has come to mean a couple things recently, since the advent of the Lean Startup movement, which favors an iterative approach to product development and involves bringing in end-users early and often for feedback on the project’s delivery.
Traditionally in project management, Lean PM is a way of eliminating waste in processes and making sure that the people involved work effectively together. It streamlines the handoffs between teams, eliminating downtime. A common feature of lean working is to only work on one project at a time.
Good for: process improvement projects and critical initiatives that need focus.
Avoid when: we’re not sure! Every piece of work can benefit from trying to make the processes involved as simple and easy to use as possible.