Everything You Need to Know About Project Management
Many of us are familiar with the world of projects. We tackle both small and large assignments on a daily basis to achieve a goal, meet a need, or please someone who depends on us. But in the world of business, project management is a complete system for creating results from start to finish.
Disorganization is the enemy of good project management, and it can be the root cause of many larger issues. Project management has many important benefits that help companies scale to new heights. This is why it’s critical to have a healthy understanding of the tools and processes at your disposal.
In this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn what project management is and how it differs from business process management (BPM). You’ll also learn the valuable tools and best practices that will help you transition from novice to expert project manager in no time.
What is Project Management All About?
Project management is about the creation and fulfillment of notable work-related goals. Not only does project management help you define what those goals are, but it also gives you the plan to accomplish them.
Project management hinges on things like organization and effective communication. Who handles subtasks in a key project? How will they move a project from start to finish? If you’ve been in business long enough, you’ll know that these are common causes of frustration and stalling.
Project management can also teach team members a great deal about discipline. With a built-in accountability framework, it’s an effective system for checking in and moving forward. If your team lacks structure, project management is the ideal way to provide it for both complex and simple tasks.
The Relationship Between Process Management and Project Management
Sometimes, “process management” and “project management” are used interchangeably. In reality, these two concepts are very different and serve different purposes within the workplace.
Process management focuses on:
- Repeatable activities that are performed many times
- Workflows that are needed to keep a business operational
- Eliminating obstacles and challenges to make ordinary work more efficient
Project management focuses on:
- A one-time, definitive goal that has a specific endpoint
- The creation of new products, strategies, and ways of doing business
- A clear idea at inception that always ends with a finished product
Why is Project Management Important for Businesses?
Although executives and CEOs have a responsibility to see the big picture, it’s also crucial to zoom in. Project management is the way to do that responsibly and purposefully.
If you’re new to the world of project management and wondering why it’s so transformational, here are a few benefits to consider:
- Promotes risk management. Risk management is included within the project management cycle. Good project managers stay on the lookout for potential impediments that can derail a project or harm a company’s broader interests.
- Maximizes resources and availability. Most savvy business owners have an interest in leveraging all available resources. Project management helps regulate both human skills and financial resources.
- Sets the tone for quality control. Built-in accountability measures mean improved quality and function. Not only do higher standards mean that teams are more efficient, but they also lead to more satisfied customers.
- Includes strategic goal delivery. If an owner or CEO sets an expectation for a completed project, the responsible parties must plan to deliver. Project management equips team members with the tools and processes they need to stay accountable.
- Sets a path for understanding failures. Good project managers acknowledge that not every project will go according to plan. When that happens, CEOs and project managers should acknowledge the potential for learning. Project management leverages past mistakes for future success.
Stages of Business Project Management
By now, you’ve likely figured out that project management is a multi-step process. Some business experts view these stages as a complete life cycle. In each of the steps below, there are important processes and action items required to move from one point to the next.
Step 1: Initiation
During the initiation stage, the project manager and team members will decide whether a project is valuable. If the project holds weight, the manager will decide to move forward.
Occasionally, the initiation stage is marked by the use of business case documents and feasibility studies. Both of these tools can help:
- Justify moving forward on a project
- See an estimated cost for completion
- Balance the requirements with available resources
- Outline why and how a project makes sense
During the initiation stage, a project manager or management team may decide to abandon a project. This can either be done in the short or long term, based on a careful analysis of benefits.
Step 2: Planning
If you’ve ever written an essay, you know that one of the best ways to set yourself up for success is to outline your work ahead of time. That’s exactly what happens in the second step of project management.
The planning stage creates important definitions and expectations. This stage also:
- Identifies very specific tasks
- Names the responsible parties
- Defines a timeline to completion
- Assigns resources to key steps in the workflow
- Adopts a mutual schedule to follow
Without proper planning, the later stages of project management may not be as successful. In this stage, your team is essentially building a foundation upon which they’ll place the finished project.
Step 3: Execution
If you prefer action to brainstorming, then you’re bound to be excited over the execution step. In this stage, action steps are based on the type of project you’re completing and the type of organizational boundaries that are in place.
In the execution stage, you can expect to work heavily alongside other team members and stakeholders to set responsibilities and execute on plans. Here, good leadership depends on managing people and following processes well.
In the execution phase, you can expect to produce many essential items that create momentum for the project. These execution items include:
- Key project deliverables that go through testing and approval
- Change management documents that preserve the integrity of each goal
- Kickoff and check-in meetings that boost communication and effort
Step 4: Project Monitoring and Control
When it comes to promoting accountability, this is one of the most important steps in the project management life cycle. This is where project managers step in and ensure that benchmarks and progressive goals are met.
In this step, the relevant parties will also provide updates to members of the leadership team or other higher-ups. These stakeholders may want crucial information on how a project is progressing and if it’s staying on budget. There is full transparency in this stage so that no one is caught off guard at later milestones.
The “control” aspect of this step sometimes means that a team will need to pivot. If these directional changes are minor, it could be as simple as getting every team member on the same ideological page. If the adjustments require major updates, it may mean adjusting the budget, specs, or documentation.
Step 5: Closure
Closing on a project means that you are formally ending the project. If project management principles have been followed successfully, closure implies that you have a complete and polished project to present. This means that all work is now finished.
In the closure step, a team may need to present the final product and receive a formal sign-off. Additionally, closure is the point for evaluation and discussion. During the closure process, a team may consider:
- What the biggest successes were
- What the greatest struggles or failures were
- Which planning steps were the most beneficial
- If resources and budgetary constraints were helpful or prohibitive
By formalizing the step of closure, project managers can help avoid repeat mistakes. This step also allows you to pass a deliverable or finished product to the user or customer who will benefit from it the most.
Project Management Best Practices
Let’s say you have a rich understanding of the project management steps. Now, you should ensure that each step is powered by industry best practices. These tips range from technical to interpersonal, and they can make a huge difference in morale and motivation.
Establish a Sense of Stability
An important element of project management success is making sure that you set definitions early in the process. That’s why the first step–initiation–is so crucial. During initiation, you can answer important questions and set standards from inception.
The purpose of established roles, requirements, and deadlines is to avoid ambiguity in the future. Taking the time to build the project’s foundation establishes stability.
As a project manager, how can you drive the idea of stability home? How can you communicate with clarity and precision so that everyone on the team feels confident moving forward? This is one best practice that’s non-negotiable.
Empower Technical Workers
Research, unfortunately, shows that up to half of all technical projects fail. Despite the reasoning, it’s important to recognize the large gap between what technical workers need and what they receive.
As you establish timelines, factor in hiccups and delays in the process. Seeking honest input from the development team responsible for performing the technical work is also important. Empowering developers with the tools and processes they need to excel can make or break a project management system.
Display Honesty and Transparency
When it comes to good project management, no team member likes to be in the dark. And although some information isn’t relevant to everyone’s job, it’s still important that the data is accessible.
Principles like honesty and transparency also show that an organization has integrity. This could be a huge motivating factor for your team. Strive to give your team access to things like good communication, open data sharing, and truthful feedback.
Point Back to the Big “Why”
Very few people are motivated by reasons such as “just because.” Instead, team members want to know that their contributions are meaningful and impactful.
To help facilitate this sense of purpose, always be upfront about the “why” behind a project. This can mean defining how a project adds to the company’s success. It can also mean illustrating why a project matters to the community or world at large.
Whatever the scope of the project, have a clear picture of its purpose out front for your team to see at every stage. While scope and timelines may change, the big picture should remain constant.
Audit and Escalate Accordingly
Throughout each step of the project management life cycle, it’s vital that your team evaluates progress. As a manager, you can do this through well-timed audits. Ask thorough questions to avoid missing any hindrance or misstep that exists below the surface.
In the event that a project team does hit a significant snag, escalate the problem up the chain of command. It’s better to do so quickly rather than to wait until an issue is so deeply ingrained that it can’t be resolved. While escalation can feel intimidating, this practice contributes to a culture of honesty and transparency.
Project Management Tools and Techniques
The world of project management is diverse. Fortunately, an uptick in project processes has also contributed to a wealth of resources for project managers. Some of the most popular project management tools include:
- Interactive dashboards
- Gantt charts
- Real-time reports and analytics
- Task management trackers
- Live chats and discussion boards
- Apps and integrations
- Project templates
- Cloud-based documentation
Depending on which type of tool your team decides to use, there may be several customizable techniques and features that increase adaptability and application. If you’re looking for a good starting point, here are a few of the most popular project management software options.
- Trello: Trello is a project management tool that works with boards and cards to help you create, move, and complete projects. Trello users love the ability to spot project information at a quick glance and to integrate with third-party apps like Slack.
- Jira: Jira is a software development tool used most frequently by Agile teams. It’s a foundational system for scrum project management. Jira allows you to plan, track, release, and report all major projects and development milestones.
- Asana: Asana is a user-friendly tool for managing projects, uploading documents, viewing calendars, and more. The simple interface is great for small teams who want to see high-priority projects more easily.
- Basecamp: Basecamp is known for its modern and social media-inspired interface. This tool makes it easy for teams to consolidate projects in a streamlined way to promote better interaction and accountability.
Streamline Your Processes
To truly streamline your project management process, you must approach the situation comprehensively. This means taking a close look at all the projects in your organization at a given time. Which ones are critical to business, and which ones are simple distractions?
In the end, the point of your evaluation should be to focus on what really matters–growing your business. There’s always an opportunity to use project management best practices for holistic, positive change in a new direction.
Need Extra Help?
By now, you’ve got a solid understanding of how to take your project management skills and knowledge to the next level. Although project management can change based on your industry, audience, and goals, it’s important to have a baseline plan in place.
Still struggling to launch your project management plans into action? Don’t go it alone. Contact the team at Striventa today for a personalized approach from a team of project management experts.